Another test of South Africa's big-game temperament
AB de Villiers was 22 yards away from Chris Gayle when the Jamaican broke Brendon McCullum's record for the highest score in a twenty-over match. He was also with Gayle that morning as he ate breakfast and the day before when he prepared for the match. To this day, de Villiers knows Gayle did not do anything other than the usual when he blasted his 175 not out.
"He prepares for each game the same," de Villiers said. "He fancies a few bowlers more than others. That's what I picked up in the IPL. He'll feel a bowler [out] and then after two or three overs he'll decide, okay, it's you and me today."
It's not that they have to get past Gayle to secure a place in the knockouts, it's that his presence emphasises all their weaknesses. He is the classmate who never does any homework, but gets better grades than the studious, hardworking child. He plays cricket with all the freedom of an escaped prisoner.
The match against the West Indies is a quarter-final in every way but name. As usual, South Africa have promised they are ready. They can look to their last match against Pakistan as evidence they can win when they need to. "We approached it as a knockout game and we played really good cricket," de Villiers said. "The intensity is really good at the moment. The energy and team spirit is really good. We handled the pressure situations really well in the previous games, and more of that tomorrow would be great."
Apart from Gayle, South Africa are wary of the knots Sunil Narine can tie around them, especially since their line-up is laden with left-handers. De Villiers has not faced him too much, and isn't sure if he can pick him yet. De Villiers said reading the ball out of the hand is not as important as we may perceive. "I haven't always picked Saeed Ajmal but I tend to play him well."
That sort of attitude is what South Africa need more of if they are to prevail in major tournaments. They need to understand that even if they are not the best at something, they can rely on their ability to make a plan and scrap it out. Something New Zealand do so often to great effect.
They also need to learn not to take themselves too seriously. Countless reassurances of how "we've got our game sorted and strategies in place," do not make South Africa appear ready for anything. It makes them look too prepared.
Over-rehearsal can have its pitfalls too. Against India, their bowlers refused to adjust their lengths when they saw the short ball was ineffective. Against Pakistan their batsmen played with much haste, with four of them getting themselves run out. South Africa have already stopped focusing obsessively on history and records, but they still lack that element of coolness under pressure. Which is why teams like West Indies consider themselves in with a chance in one-off encounters against South Africa.
"It doesn't really matter whether you win previous games against [the] opposition or not. I think the South Africans will feel the pressure also. They know if they lose, they are going back home," Dwayne Bravo reminded before he struck a Warner-esque blow. "They have a tag of being chokers that do not do well in big tournaments, so that would be added pressure on them. We're going to enjoy the occasion and forget about what happens in previous games. It's a knockout game. We've been in this situation before and we've done well and gone beyond. So, no pressure on us."
Those realisations - that West Indies have tasted success before, and that word - chokers - will make South Africa cringe. But they are trying to strike the dreaded word from their vocabulary, and Test captain Graeme Smith, who is not at the event because of injury, had the first attempt. "Never mind pressure on the Proteas, Dwayne Bravo just put it all on himself! Not the smartest move from him I reckon," Smith tweeted. Tomorrow will reveal just how clever it actually was.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent