South Africa's early World Cup exit

We'll struggle to shed chokers' tag - Majola

Firdose Moonda in Colombo

March 27, 2011


Corrie van Zyl looks despondent after South Africa's exit from the World Cup, New Zealand v South Africa, 3rd quarter-final, Mirpur, World Cup 2011, March 25, 2011
Corrie van Zyl, the South Africa coach, said the pressure of past failures in World Cups affected his team © Getty Images
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Gerald Majola, the Cricket South Africa chief executive, has admitted the team will struggle to shed their chokers' tag after the collapse which cost them the World Cup quarter-final against New Zealand in Mirpur.

"We've always had this chokers tag with us; unfortunately we've allowed it to stick. We haven't applied ourselves," he said in Colombo, where he will watch the semi-final between New Zealand and Sri Lanka on Tuesday. "We have to accept the problem and then deal with it."

South Africa left no stone unturned to address what Majola calls "the problem" before coming to this tournament. They picked a varied and dynamic team, which they used creatively. They employed the same psychologist who worked with the national rugby team when they achieved World Cup glory in 2007. With their new look, Majola said that he was "quietly confident that we would win the World Cup."

After their first six games, he was convinced. "When I looked at the draw, I thought we would play either India or Pakistan in the final. But we failed ourselves. The match was basically a replica of the England game. We needed calm heads."

Majola knows all about being calm under pressure in sport, having played so much of it himself. He contested many finals. One of those was the SA Cup final, a rugby match, where Majola had to take the penalty kick that would force a draw. His side was down 3-0 and the kick was right in front of the posts. He missed.

"I remembered that final after the New Zealand game," he said, adding that the way he felt then was how Graeme Smith felt after South Africa's loss. "I have known Graeme since he was 18 years old in 1998, when I was a selector, and I have never seen him so distraught."

Majola went into the dressing room after the loss and was confronted with a team that had "tears rolling" out of their eyes. Although he is disappointed in them, he said he can't be angry because they are "taking ownership" of what happened.

Times like these usually call for a massive regime change and heads to roll, but in South Africa's case the change was always going to happen. Corrie van Zyl and Smith both announced before the tournament that they would be stepping down from their positions as coach and captain respectively. The process to appoint a new coach has already started, with applications closed. "We have a shortlist of six names that we will announce after the tournament," Majola said. The new coach will be appointed in June and the ODI captain will be decided in consultation with him.

van Zyl, who will return to his job as manager of the high performance programme, held a press conference in Johannesburg on Sunday, where he echoed what Majola said about the ghosts of the past catching up with them. "All the disappointments of the past World Cups have caught up with us," he said. "That's where the pressure starts piling up. We must remember that most of the squad that played in this tournament weren't part of those campaigns, but we make them part of that by constantly reminding them of previous failures."

Although South Africa made concerted efforts to overcome pressure, when it was right in front of them, staring them in the eyes, they collapsed. "Pressure is a huge factor," van Zyl said. "When you reach the knockout phase, there's the feeling that this is perhaps your last opportunity and you need to make it count. It plays on you and you need to keep your composure. We didn't do that and that was unfortunate."

He also dismissed all thoughts that the wrong selections were made, with critics saying that an experienced big hitter in the mould of Mark Boucher or Albie Morkel would have made a difference. "I don't believe we needed anyone else but the 15 players we had. They were the right players for the conditions."

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

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