Protea shambles: Out-batted, out-bowled and out of another ICC event

Protea shambles: Out-batted, out-bowled and out of another ICC event

That old chestnut of being unable to perform under pressure in ICC sanctioned events gave South Africa the heebie jeebies against India on Sunday. A run out so bizarre that it will replace the memory of the Klusener-Donald affair pretty much summed-up the team’s woes when it comes to knock-out games. By ANTOINETTE MULLER

Death. Taxes. South Africa imploding in an International Cricket Council sanctioned event. These are a few of life’s certainties. And it came into full view once again when the Proteas crashed out of the Champions Trophy on Sunday in a way only they can.

Bowled out for 191 and beaten inside 38 overs, the Proteas put on a buckle-under-pressure display that not even the most sadistic scriptwriters could have envisaged.

There were three run-outs, including one that will now replace the horror memory of the Lance Klusener-Allan Donald affair, a batting performance so utterly inept, it would make most backyard efforts look good and sheer exasperation by a fielding side who was given the cricket equivalent of a piece of mouldy bread and asked to deliver a Michelin star quality three-course meal.

Very little of this was because India were exceptional with ball in hand. They were decent, sure, but they weren’t 191 all out decent.

The match was effectively a quarter-final. After South Africa, the number one ranked team in the world, had engineered a way to lose to Pakistan, a team ranked eight with a reputation for being woefully inconsistent, they had to beat India to progress from the group stages.

Knowing the Proteas’ record in these sorts of matches, only a fool would have ranked them as favourites against India. But nobody would have expected the disaster to be quite so unmitigated.

But, then again, South Africa’s whole campaign has been a bit of a damp squib – and that’s not a reference to the weather in England. They have lacked the swagger they had when they thumped Australia and Sri Lanka 5-0 and the pizazz they mustered when clinching a series win against New Zealand away from home.

This team was supposed to do great things. Perhaps not quite as great as actually winning the tournament, but they certainly weren’t expected to embarrass themselves in quite such spectacular fashion.

There will be many post-mortems in the aftermath of this. One of those will almost certainly dissect AB de Villiers’ captaincy and whether he is still – or ever was – the right man for the job. On Sunday, where he had absolutely nothing to lose, De Villiers waited until the 16th over before bringing on one of the best white-ball bowler in the world in Imran Tahir.

Even on a pitch that doesn’t turn, Tahir has proven time and time again to be naggingly effective. Then there are the countless examples of being unable to do something as basic as stick to an over rate and a general feeling that, maybe, De Villiers is just too nice to do the job of captaining.

But these questions and assessments are the easy ones.

The question nobody seems to be able to answer is why does this keep happening? It’s not that these players do not know how to conquer pressure. They battled it brilliant in recent one-day games. Many of the seniors have overcome intense pressure in Tests. Why, then, are they incapable of doing the same when they part-take in ICC events?

It’s also not something that can be pinned on coaching staff. This bizarre behaviour has straddled different eras and personnel. The anxiety is infectious.

At the 2015 World Cup, despite still crashing out, it seemed as if though South Africa had finally freed themselves from the voodoo of the past. But that was a false dawn.
What is it, then, that turns a group of exceptional players and match-winners into gibbering wrecks at even the merest thought of pressure?

The curse is certainly not unique to the South African team. It took the Boston Red Sox almost 90 years to win a World Series, despite having good squads and no players who carried the baggage of the so-called Curse of Bambino.

The answer to South Africa’s puzzling question might be as simple as calling on Occam’s razor. They fail because they’ve not succeeded. Until they do, the panic will hound them and the word they loathe will be everywhere they look. DM

Scorecard summary: India 193-2 (Shikhar Dhawan 78, Virat Kohli 76*) beat South Africa 191 all out(Quinton de Kock 53, Bhuvneshwar Kumar 2-23, Jasprit Bumrah 2-28) by eight wickets.


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