‘No choke’ — Proteas coach defends World Cup showing, says there’s plenty scope for growth
The Proteas have suffered yet another heartbreaking semifinal defeat, but Rob Walter is standing by his team and their captain.
South Africa’s 2023 ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup campaign came to a heartbreaking end on 16 November after a tightly fought three-wicket loss to Australia in their semifinal.
The Proteas’ 2023 campaign has many similarities to other failed attempts of previous teams to reach a World Cup final.
Although the Proteas didn’t dominate the round robin stage – that honour was left to hosts India – they were the second-best team throughout the preliminary stage of the tournament. But, unlike previous South African teams in a World Cup, this side didn’t enter the tournament as favourites. In fact, they scraped their way into it.
South Africa were also at no time on top of the match against Australia. It is therefore hard to equate their semifinal defeat to a “choke”.
“You need to define what a choke is,” head coach Rob Walter said after the loss. “For me, a choke is losing a game that you’re in a position to win.
“In this instance, we were behind the eight ball right from the word go and we actually fought our way back into the competition and put up a score that gave us a chance. And then they got off to a flyer and we fought and we put ourselves back into the game – and of course we were 30 runs or 40 runs short. But still having them seven down and a couple of things, balls bouncing just short, a little inside edge that could have been taken… for me there’s nothing even remotely close to a choke that happened out there. It’s a serious contest between two good teams – number two and three in the tournament.”
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If not for one-day international (ODI) home series wins against previous world champions England and the Netherlands earlier this year, South Africa would have had to play in Cricket World Cup qualifiers in the middle of the year. Those series wins coincided with the appointment of Walter as head coach of the white-ball side and a new attacking philosophy.
The Proteas were otherworldly with the bat throughout the World Cup, blowing teams away before they even had the ball in hand.
Before the semifinal, the Proteas had scored between 311 and 428 every time they were sent in to bat. Sri Lanka, Australia, England, Bangladesh and New Zealand were all taken apart by South Africa’s destructive top six.
Quinton de Kock was a marvel to watch in the swansong tournament of his ODI career, smacking four hundreds and finishing with the most runs in a World Cup campaign for South Africa.
Apart from captain Temba Bavuma, every batter struck a century at some point.
It was a torrid World Cup for the skipper, who came into the tournament as the team’s highest run scorer for the year but struggled with fitness and timing in India. His top score was 35 against Australia in the round robin, and he finished the tournament with an average below 20.
Despite Bavuma’s niggling hamstring injury and failing form, Walter stuck with him in all the crunch matches in the tournament. “I just told him how proud I am of him,” he said about his words to his captain after the loss to Australia.
“He was the lead man that got us into this tournament in the first place. I think people forget that, so I just wanted to make sure that he was aware of how important he is in this team and how proud I am of his efforts.”
An untimely injury to fast-bowling star Anrich Nortje forced Walter’s arm into selecting a green Gerald Coetzee (23) for the showpiece event as an injury replacement.
Coetzee entered the World Cup with only six ODIs to his name. He ended it with 20 wickets in the eight matches he played – the most yet by a South African in the tournament. He bowled with pace and aggression throughout, akin to the bowler he replaced.
Although his last two matches of the campaign were underwhelming, South Africa’s other 23-year-old, Marco Jansen, shone brightly with bat and ball at various stages of the round robin matches.
Despite taking only one wicket in the two matches against India and Australia, Jansen still finished the tournament with 17 scalps and was particularly dangerous with the new ball.
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Jansen was handy with the bat too, smacking 157 runs from the No 7 position. His undefeated 75 against England was a glimpse of the potential he poses to hold down the position for the foreseeable future.
“Personally, I’m excited,” Walter said about the potential for continued development in the Proteas side.
“I think there’s a huge scope for us to grow as a team. I think there’s a huge scope for us to play even better than we have. And the majority of the people that are going to be on their journey are still in that changing room.” DM
This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R29.