Yet another knock-out fixture in a global event for South Africa and once again the Proteas have done what they are best known for – putting up a below average performance on the field in a sudden death situation. Some people tend to refer this situation as ‘choking’.
Year after year, tournament after tournament – this trend continues and South Africa, most unceremoniously remain the only Test playing nation apart from Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, not to win a global trophy in white-ball cricket, in this century.
So, what exactly went wrong for them in this must-win fixture against India?
At 116 for 1 in the 25th over, South Africa were doing all right. A score in the range of 280 to 300 would have been handy on that used Oval track.
However, the batting just collapsed after the wicket of Quinton de Kock, which was followed by the game-changing miscommunication between Faf du Plessis and AB de Villiers. That phase completely turned the game in favour of India and South Africa have only themselves to blame.
So, was it the unnecessary panic on the part of the batting unit for not being able to press the accelerator or was it just one of the infamous South African brain fades in a do-or-die situation of a big event?
“Very difficult to explain that [what went wrong] to you. I don’t know how that happened. It’s a partnership out there. It’s two guys that trust – try and trust each other to put off a run or two and sometimes it just doesn’t happen that way, and you come up short. I don’t know what happened there today. I wouldn’t like to blame guys out there. It’s just one of those things that happen I guess,” skipper de Villiers couldn’t find any explanation to define the hara-kiri, which saw South Africa losing their last nine wickets for just 75 runs in 120 balls.
Collapsing for just 191 in this virtual quarter-final was an inexplicable effort by the number one ranked team in this format.
In terms of South Africa’s all ill-famed tournament exits de Villiers wants to put it right at the top.
“It ranks right up there. It’s always very disappointing to me when we lose a game, and the way we lost was the most disappointing part of it. We were really in a good position there with the batting end early on, and through soft dismissals, we lost our way and that was the part for me that hurt the most,” a dejected captain mentioned in the post-match presser.
But why is this keep on happening to South Africa in these world level tournaments? At the bilateral level, they put professional approach and tend to win most of the fixtures but when it comes to multi-team events, mentally, it is just a different Proteas unit altogether.
Is it something to do with their big match temperament?
De Villiers seems to have no clue.
“Look, we’ve covered all the bases. There’s no doubt about that. We’ve had a camp, off the camp. And we’ve worked really, really hard on the nets, and we back each other, we trust each other, and for some reason, things like that just keep happening.
“Wasn’t a knockout game today. Was still part of our pool games, so that’s the one area that’s a bit different, but it was still a must-win game, and we pride ourselves in coming on top when we have to win a game. We’ve done that for quite a bit in big series not long ago in the last 12 to 18 months and unfortunately, we couldn’t pull it off today.”
I asked the same question to Faf du Plessis, who leads South Africa in the other two formats. He too found it difficult to explain.
“I would hope to say no [Problem lies in South Africa’s big match temperament] but obviously the proof isn’t in putting. Today we played our worst game of cricket for a long time and that is not great to know. As a team, we have been doing everything we should have in the whole year. We ticked all the boxes. The brand of cricket has transformed a little bit.
“The team has gone with a more aggressive approach. We wanted to do a similar style of this throughout this tournament. When the opportunity in the game to transfer the pressure back on the opposition, that’s the last thing today we could do that at all and if you don’t that, you obviously gonna give yourself not the best chance.”
You have to feel for these South African cricketers. They are one of the most talented players in the world. But unfortunately, they do not tend to get the taste the joy of a global trophy triumph.
Also, feel for their supporters. The fans of South African cricket team are probably the most deprived sports fans in the world, ever.
Hope the sun will rise on the other side of this dark phase.