World Twenty20 2012 September 15, 2012

De Villiers raring to set South African record straight

AB de Villiers, it would appear, just cannot wait to face up to and ease the memories of South Africa's past misdemeanours at this World Twenty20

Anybody daring to ask Graeme Smith why South Africa routinely choked in major competitions was best advised to first check their life insurance. The word was on South African cricket's banned list during last year's World Cup and, when it was uttered, Smith bristled in a manner that suggested the conversation was best left unfinished.

"So you have been out in the middle?" Smith railed. "You understand all that? Every time we walk into a press conference, it's the question we expect to get."

It made no difference: South Africa were thrashed by New Zealand in the quarter-final in Mirpur, Smith retired as one-day captain, as he had always planned, after eight years in the job, and even such a redoubtable leader had failed to lead his shrewd, methodical and talented team to a major one-day prize.

AB de Villiers, Smith's replacement as one-day captain, tried a different tack as South Africa arrived in Colombo. Superficially at least, he does not possess Smith's air of defiance, but he could not wait to face down South Africa's past misdemeanours, so much so that if somebody had asked him about the price of mangoes in Pettah Market he would probably have said: "Ah, I know you are secretly referring to choking, and there is something I want to say about this ..."

Few cricket writers know the price of mangoes in Pettah Market but, rightly or wrongly, most think South Africa chokes are ten a penny.

The question was framed innocently enough: "South Africa is a powerhouse when it comes to cricket but, when you enter big tournaments, does it play on your mind that the major trophy remains elusive?"

De Villiers's eyes narrowed. "I am going to be very honest with you," he said. "I am going to put it out there straight up front. We have choked in the past and we know about that - if that's the word you are looking for. It is as simple as that. We have had some really bad experiences in the past but I would like to emphasise that it is past.

"We come in with a whole new look in this team. We have worked really hard with a whole new management team, who have given us a lot of energy and new ideas. We will approach this tournament differently and we would like to win the pressure situations. We are going out there to do exactly that."

Colombo was the scene of one of South Africa's most bewildering defeats of all. Ten years ago, they faced India in the semi-final of the Champions Trophy and were 192 for 1, needing 70 from 14 overs, when Herschelle Gibbs retired with cramp in both hands. The game was theirs, but cramp spread to the entire batting line-up and they lost by 10 runs.

Study a list of South Africa's defeats in major one-day tournaments and there have been as many pseudo chokes as real chokes. Sometimes they have just been outplayed by a better side and the cliché has been levelled at them anyway. There seemed little appetite for bringing the subject up again. Then de Villiers did it anyway.

Smith has surely never felt as much hurt as he did after that New Zealand defeat. He looked mentally and physically broken. "Hopefully in the future somebody will go all the way," Smith said then. That hope now rests with de Villiers. But nobody will really believe it until they see it.

David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dakshitha on September 18, 2012, 8:36 GMT

    Oh.. This is the first time I guess Virat Kholi's Name is not mentioned in comments "irrespective whether the article is about him"......

  • mahjut on September 18, 2012, 8:28 GMT

    I think it must also be said that if SA win this they should not for a second think the journos will step away from their standard arguement - they will still have to win the next ODI WC and the first Test cup to shake that title of chokers

  • Dummy4 on September 18, 2012, 6:18 GMT


  • mahjut on September 17, 2012, 17:08 GMT

    i think the author summed it up in the most annoyingly obvious way ever "no-one really believes it till they see it". I absolutely agree but for me it extends beyond SA...I can't believe anyone will win this tourny (i suppose one may say in which case i belive anyone can - no, there are some teams which are a certain NO). There are always 3/4 contenders and the very occasional surprise but of the 3/4 contenders i have never thought (apart from Oz 'after' in the 2003 and 2007 WCs) "i believe X will win" . So, i will believe that SA will win the tourny when they have ... and that goes for all the other teams too!!

  • mahjut on September 17, 2012, 16:08 GMT

    don't try to use a T20 tourny to talk of putting ghosts behind AB - did you know there are tounaments in rock,paper,scissors? someone has to win a tourny but it T20!? forget it ... and hope. As for 'chokers' honestly those shouting the most will be those who have won nothing ... OZ (always favourites at ODI WCups) won 3 times running didn't they? so who are these people shouting chokers - either punters from the winning team(who were always touted to win) or from teams who couldn't muster a good enough side to be seen as potential competitors to OZ. LOL - wear it as a badge mate!!!

  • Dummy4 on September 17, 2012, 9:57 GMT

    I think that SA can really do it this time round, I know everyone says that every time a World Cup comes around but this is surely their best chance of recent times!? Since readmission they have been really unlucky..the ridiculous instance being 1992 against England with the 22 runs off 1 ball incident and robbing them of a WC Final and possibly winning the WC at their first attempt since readmission.

  • Dummy4 on September 17, 2012, 5:53 GMT

    S.A no chance of winning esp in srilankan conditions....:)

  • Sankarankutty on September 17, 2012, 3:56 GMT

    @MattyP1979: I don't know about the whole '99% of all fans like test no.1 compared to other victories' idea mate. Indians seemed very happy after winning the world cup and I didnt see many celebrations out on the street when we were test no.1 the same year. And assuming at least 50% of all cricket fans in the world are Indians the numbers don't add up. But its obvious that English fans prefer test cricket more and believe that its the pinnacle of cricket in a lot of ways. Frankly, I agree with you on both of those counts.

  • Nik on September 17, 2012, 1:43 GMT

    SA do it this time man its about time its been 20 years of come back cricket. they play well but seriously big tournaments phew struggling big time :)

  • Dummy4 on September 16, 2012, 20:59 GMT

    and it's only the past that has come to haunt you back always!

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