India v South Africa, Super Eights, World Twenty20, Colombo October 2, 2012

De Villiers owns up to South African choke


Once before the tournament began, and now at South Africa's exit, AB de Villiers has confronted the choker's tag, and worn it self-critically. "We have choked in the past," was his unprovoked confession in the days leading up to the tournament, and at their farewell, he again uttered the c-word previous South Africa captains would have avoided even if giving a lecture on the Heimlich maneuvre's effect on fuel injection.

It was almost pre-emptive flagellation. Perhaps de Villiers believed the press would beat the team with that stick anyway, and chose to reappropriate the label - or at least soften the blows by admitting it himself. Maybe he believed that taking total ownership of the team's shortcomings is a crucial step in the side eventually overcoming them. Whatever the reason, de Villiers seemed almost eager to evoke South Africa's perceived psychological deficiency when asked a tangential question.

"In the big moments, in the pressure moments, when it really mattered, we were found wanting," de Villiers replied to a question that simply sought enlightenment on the fickleness of Twenty20. "In that Pakistan game, we should have closed that down. We know that. It's simple to say, but we choked that game. That's a simple fact. We've got to go back and become a better team and there are no excuses."

The truth however, is that South Africa didn't go far enough into the tournament to actually choke - at least not to the extent to which they capitulated against New Zealand in the 2011 World Cup quarter final. They are not the first team to find themselves on the receiving end of a thrilling Pakistan comeback, and they are unlikely to be the last. Against Australia, they were simply brutalised by a player in incredible form, and when there was no pressure on them at all in their last match of the tournament, they fell short there as well.

De Villiers denied South Africa had struggled to adjust to the Premadasa pitch, and instead simply said the side had under-performed. The seamers had been humming on a fast, juicy Hambantota surface during the group stage, but could not transfer that form to Colombo for the Super Eights.

"I thought we played well in Hambantota, but I don't think it was the conditions here really, we just didn't play good cricket," de Villiers said. "It started off against Pakistan when we got into a winning position and we found a way to lose that game. We still didn't give up hope and worked really hard. We came back against Australia and we were beaten by a better unit on that day. We tried really hard again today, but it just didn't really click in this tournament. It's hard to put my finger on something - we just played poor cricket throughout."

South Africa's fielding was perhaps the most surprising disappointment in the tournament, for a side that has built a reputation as one of the best fielding outfits in the world. South Africa spilt catches in almost every match, and given two of their defeats in the Super Eights were lost by slim margins, a tidier show in the field might have seen them through to the semi-finals. Both Rohit Sharma and Suresh Raina were reprieved during the one-run loss to India.

"It wasn't ideal tonight. Unfortunately we let a couple of catches go down and we have done that in the whole tournament actually. It happens a little in this format when the ball flies all over the place, you do see a couple of catches go down. But that's no excuse, we're a better fielding unit than that."

South Africa will host the Champions League Twenty20 in October, but the team's first international commitment is a tour of Australia in November. De Villiers said the break from their international schedule would be an ideal time to process the disappointments of another unsuccessful campaign in a major tournament.

"We felt very well supported in this tournament and that's the thing that hurts most. The South African media and people back home expect a lot more from us, and unfortunately this time we couldn't deliver. It's not time to give up hope. The guys have performed in the past and that's showed me that I can't lose my faith."

Andrew Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's correspondent in Sri Lanka

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Andrew on October 4, 2012, 6:04 GMT

    Before the tournament started I knew that this wasn't the best squad that South Africa could pick. I think they picked their best bowlers but they lacked firepower from their top order batsmen (i.e Levi and Kallis especially). Also I felt that JP Duminy was yet again underutilised. I certainly rate him as SAs 2nd best batsman in T20s and should have been batting at 3 or 4. Though Levi is a clean striker of the ball, he isn't consistent enough in this format. So perhaps SA still have some work to do in this format. I believe that they have what it takes to win the 2015 WC and I back them to win it. This comment is from an Indian supporter.

  • Manesh on October 4, 2012, 5:28 GMT

    It is funny that SA considered as favorites in all series and they will crash out before finals. They do not know how to handle pressure.

  • rahul on October 3, 2012, 23:35 GMT

    This was not a choke. They simply did not play well in the tournament. A proper choke will be if Aus crash and burn in the Semi-finals.

  • Dummy4 on October 3, 2012, 17:17 GMT

    The quota system lives, as evidenced by Behardien's selection. The inclusion of not as useful players such as Ontong and Tsotsobe on the bench are further evidence. Other than that, though, SA have only themselves to blame. Levi never fired. Kallis never fired. Amla never fired. DeVilliers' biggest game was against Sri Lanka in the group stage, when we were already through.

    To some extent SA were unlucky, and to some extent, credit has to be given to the opposition, for getting Amla and Kallis out.

  • Hardy on October 3, 2012, 16:53 GMT

    It wasn't a choke, they just simply weren't good enough. Has anyone ever considered that?

  • Soul on October 3, 2012, 16:18 GMT

    India won the matches with a weak bowling bowling attack.and yet bowled out other teams three times in this T20....look at SA they have the most destructive bowling and batting line up and yet they are not able to wing a single match in super 8...wat a waste of talent.....

  • Dummy4 on October 3, 2012, 15:17 GMT

    So Easy for Ab to "cop out" by saying "we choked." Rather insulting to the opposition? Truth is, the Protea side was just not good enough! Unbalanced, full of sound provincial players, unfortunately they found the step up to the international scene too big!? Levi, Behardien, in particular, are lightweight. Moreover, De Villiers is not ready (good enough?) to do a Mickey Stewart or an Adam Gilcrist or a even a Flower? Let him bat and field ... this last discipline has gone backwards. It is easy to use cliches such as "build for the future" or "learning curve." There is no such thing, in reality if SA wants to play with be the No 1 20/20 "big boys" they have to change their mindset. Botha should have remained captain, Rudolph batted in the middle order (added spin option to boot) and Faf and Kallis set as opening pair, with AB at 3. Amla, brilliant in the longer game, is not a 20/20 player ... it is not impotant enough to him. The Morkels are millstones; too expenisve, unpredictable.

  • Duncan on October 3, 2012, 13:51 GMT

    This is not a choke, this SA team went into the tournament underperforming, the games in England were an indication that they were not ready for the tournament. A choke would have been if they had been performing and then faltered just when victory was close or pressure was high. This is a pure failure!

  • Ranil on October 3, 2012, 12:25 GMT

    South Africans easily chicken out for whatever reason;I could remember once they ran away from Test matches in Sri Lanka without showing guts.Sri Lankans played in Pak when no other side was playing.Is it in the genetics I wonder Ranil Herath - Kent

  • Steve on October 3, 2012, 11:43 GMT

    SA played decent cricket despite some of the big guns not firing. First, they haven't put up totals that shifts the pressure on opposition straight away and second, their bowling unit didn't perform to the expectations. Levi, Kallis, Amla are probably not suited to T20 as much as some fans might think. They need to get the team right before they can make strides in this format.

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