ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 / News
World Cup 2011
South Africa learn to live with 'chokers' tag
February 21, 2011
The reality of being a South African cricketer is that, for the foreseeable future, all of them will be asked about choking. On the eve of a major tournament, they can expect to be asked about it every day, which is exactly what's happened during their time in India so far.
For every match they lose in the competition, even if it not in the throes of a pressure situation, they'll be asked. For every match they win, even if victory is achieved by romping through their opposition, they'll be asked. Even if they go on to win the whole tournament, they'll still be asked. It's their own enthusiastic puppy dog that's going to follow them around and yap at their heels no matter what they do to throw it off.
It was Johan Botha's turn to try today. "People say that previous World Cup sides choked and maybe they did but sometimes you are going to lose the big matches," he said, mildly shooing the puppy away with a flick of his boot. It didn't stop, it started yelping, bouncing excitedly, begging him for a little more attention. He relented. "The Aussies dominated for a long time, so the chokers thing isn't really fair. The same can be said for a lot of other teams. Australia have won it [the World Cup] for the last three times, which means that - like us - no other team won the tournament."
Of course the other teams are not like South Africa, because none of them have crashed out after two consecutive World Cup ties that forced them out of the competition, first when that disastrous run out in 1999 happened and then by failing to read a Duckworth-Lewis sheet correctly like in 2003, or because they allowed the England bowlers to keep them to 301 for 9 in chase of 323 after their captain took them to the brink like in the Champions Trophy in 2009. Those may have been the only instances of real choking, but every other tournament failure - and there have been many - get lumped under the same headline.
That's not going to change and the players seem to be learning that. They've realised that they may as well take the puppy in, raise him and turn him into a pet. At least then they'll have control over it. One example of them doing that is by talking about decreased expectation and, as though reading from a carefully planned press release, Botha just did that. "We realise that the expectation levels back home aren't maybe as high as they have been and for once we are not considered as one of the favourites, but that suits us. We only want to go about our business and reach the knock-out phase."
The other way of training the puppy is to talk about how different the team has become. A team where the word spin caused most of them to go into one, is now a team that embraces the concept in a bear hug. The spinners themselves finally feel as though they are being treated like part of the team. "In South Africa the spinners perform more of a holding role, to try and restrict the batsmen, but hopefully we can really come into our own over here," Botha said.
He even went as far as to suggest that all the frontline spinners that have come on tour may play in the same match. "It's something new and exciting to see so many spinners in the team. The three of us [Botha, Robin Peterson and Imran Tahir) have worked very hard to be in this position and there's always a chance that all of us could play together." It will be a breakthrough moment in South African cricket should that happen and Botha said given the right "conditions, the wicket and the opposition," all five spinners South Africa have brought tour may end up playing in the same match.
Even after first sweet-talking the puppy, then getting a little more firm with it and eventually trying to steer in a different direction, Botha was still being followed it by it. He was asked how South Africa can compare this tournament to the one in 1996 when they won all their group stage matches and then lost to the West Indies in the quarter-finals. Understandably, he had run out of things to say. "Hopefully things will turn around for us this time. You have to do well in the group matches and then win three knock-out games if you want to be the champion." At least his maths is up to scratch.