Domingo confident of strong show in big matches
For a full four minutes of his pre-quarter-final press conference, Russell Domingo could breathe easy. And then it came.
"Coach, I hate to be the one that brings this up..." began one reporter.
"Ah yes, choking, choking," Domingo said, with all the guffaws of someone whose trachea was quite clear. "It's taken more than four minutes... it's taken a long time to ask."
On most days it seems that South Africa have embraced this word which has done the same to them, albeit more violently. They treat it the same way Pakistan and West Indies do with "unpredictable," knowing that it only sometimes actually applies to them and at others is used sweepingly, to include shortcomings that have nothing to do with snatching defeat from the jaws of victory but are about basic errors or simply being outplayed by an opposition.
That's allowed to happen too and it did, at this World Cup, against India, who were just a superior opposition at the MCG. It happened a little less against Pakistan, when South Africa engineered their own collapse sparked by an attack who understood the significance of stepping up. Both those defeats have left South Africa exposed to hearing a lot of clearing of throats and seeing a lot of clutching at them and Domingo is prepared for the mock coughing fits.
"I think South Africa find themselves in a tough situation in that if they win all their games before the knockouts people question them; if they don't win all their games before the knockouts, people question them," he said. "We know we've come with a clean slate. We've played some good cricket, we've played some patchy cricket but we come here knowing that if we play to our best ability on the day, we've got a good chance of winning."
The best of South Africa's collective has not been on display thus far. Even when they totalled 400 twice and dismissed their opponents cheaply, to win by margins in excess of 200, one batsman and one bowler have come under scrutiny. Quinton de Kock has only got in double figures twice and looked nervy in his shot selection, footwork and running between the wickets which suggests a wane in confidence or, as one reporter put it being "mentally shot," while Dale Steyn has not built up his usual steam.
Domingo dismissed both concerns. "I am not a sports psychologist but I don't know how a player can be perceived to be mentally shot. It's a little bit nasty. We just sort of have this gut feel that Quinton has got a big score around the corner," he said. "And Dale has bowled progressively better as the competition's gone on. His pace has been up. I've got a feeling there's a big performance from Dale just around the corner. It's a matter of time before he puts in a match-winning performance for us."
Essentially, what Domingo hopes both those players produce is what South African fans have wanted from their team at every tournament they have been to: the ability to peak at the right time. "Our form leading to this game will probably be questioned, but we always said we want to play good cricket in the big matches at the right time. Wednesday is the start of the big games, so we want to make sure we play to our best potential," Domingo said. "We've spoken long and hard about playing the big games and the big moments. We've sort of..not eased our way in... but probably haven't played the consistent brand of cricket that we'd have wanted to and I am expecting that to happen on Wednesday."
So what are South Africa planning to do differently to what they have done in knockouts matches in the past? "We're not telling you because you will tell the rest of the world. That's for us to keep to ourselves." And the rest of us will have to wait and see.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent