South Africa v West Indies, Champions Trophy, Group B, Cardiff June 13, 2013

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."

"They have a tag of being chokers that do not do well in big tournaments, so that would be added pressure on them."
Dwayne Bravo brings up the C-word

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • mahjut on June 14, 2013, 9:24 GMT

    well, their last game was a big 'must-win' game too against a tourney favourite - which they showed good temperament - as will every game from here on in. so unless they come out champs they'll have proved they're chokers to those who want that to be the case - even if they're about 5th favourites to win!!? 8D Gotta love the idiocy that surrounds SA and their tourney under-achievements!

  • dummy4fb on June 14, 2013, 3:59 GMT

    I think SA should play like they have nothing to lose because they have nothing to lose. People will not be shocked if they don't win so why should they put undue pressure on themselves. They should go out and play their game: Que sera sera!

  • SurlyCynic on June 13, 2013, 23:15 GMT

    I wish everyone, including journalists, would stop talking about winning the tournament (for either team) and just look forward to the game itself. A clash between two teams with some exciting players, can't wait.

    Whoever wins can then start thinking about making the final. But looking ahead too much devalues what is right in front of us.