South Africa v England, Group B, Centurion September 28, 2009

Big-event hoodoo returns to haunt South Africa

Three global events on home turf, and not even a semi-final place to show for it. And yet, with the little support for the magnificent Graeme Smith, it could all have been so very different
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Perhaps, South Africa shouldn't host another tournament in the near future. This 22-run defeat against England completed an unwelcome hat-trick. The 2003 World Cup, the World Twenty20 in 2007 and now the Champions Trophy. Three global events on home turf, and not even a semi-final place to show for it. And yet, with the little support for the magnificent Graeme Smith, it could all have been so very different.

Smith's 141 was similar in so many ways to Sachin Tendulkar's Desert Storm innings at Sharjah in 1998. Back then, India had two targets to chase, 276 to win the game (46 overs) and 237 to make sure that they qualified for the final. For South Africa on Sunday night, the lower bar was set at 313. That would have helped them overhaul Sri Lanka's net run-rate and given them at least a mathematical chance of progress.

Eleven years ago, Tendulkar made 143 from 131 balls. Smith made 141 from 134. The next-highest contribution for India was Nayan Mongia's 35. For South Africa, no one went beyond AB de Villiers' 36. As far as one-man shows went, this was in the same league.

Just before the start of the 39th over of the South African innings, the DJ started playing Gimme Hope, Jo'anna, Eddy Grant's anti-Apartheid anthem from the 1980s. Only, on Sunday night, it was Smith who was giving more than 16,000 people something to cling to, the possibility, however slender, that South Africa could break their big-event hoodoo.

When he was asked later how empty he felt, Smith said: "It's kind of difficult to sum that up right now. I was batting and also on the field all day. Obviously, words like disappointment come to mind. It'll need a day or two to consider what happened. It's disappointing when you've played a knock like that not to get over the line."

As well as he batted, and as poorly as those around him played the pressure situations, the real blame for this latest debacle lay with the bowlers, whose lack of discipline and variations on a placid pitch allowed England to pile on the runs. "I think the wicket played really well today, and you needed to be really consistent," said Smith. "There wasn't a lot of spin on offer, so our seamers needed to come to the party. We conceded over 300 in two of the three games, which is hugely disappointing. If wickets play that well, we need to look at certain aspects of our attack and going forward to the England series, there are some decisions for us to make.

"You also have to give credit to the way [Paul] Collingwood and [Owais] Shah played. They took the game to us. They were positive, and never really allowed new bowlers to settle. As bad as we feel about our performance, you've also got to give credit to the way those two guys played, and the platform they laid for someone like Eoin Morgan who came in and played a great knock."

South Africa are respected by opponents for the meticulousness of their preparation, but once again it was their lack of an X-factor, or predictability if you want to call it that, which came back to haunt them. When asked about the possibility of using a pinch-hitter to get ahead of the asking-rate, both Smith and Mickey Arthur, the coach, sang from the same hymn-sheet.

Those who failed around him could well be targets for the C word, but anyone that uses it in relation to Smith is ignorant of both cricket and the English language. If they ever remade Braveheart, he'd be on the shortlist to play the lead.

"We spoke about it, but with our batting line-up, we have the players who can do it," Smith said. "We hit our marks right up until the 40th over. We just lost key wickets at that time. We wanted to take the Powerplay and really have a full go at it. We wanted to leave ourselves 85 or 90 in the last 10, with a Powerplay. We were close to that...just some bad shots at key times, a run out here and there. We set up where we wanted to be, but just didn't finish it off.

"You've got to weigh up if Roelof [van der Merwe] is going to do a better job than a Jacques Kallis or an AB de Villiers. Those are world-class batsmen. You've got to back the players you've picked to do a job."

There was also no hiding South African dismay over the scheduling of all three of their group games at Centurion, a result of the IPL-related spat between the Gauteng Cricket Board and Cricket South Africa. By deciding to put the provincial authorities in their place, the national body only ended up spitting on its own doorstep. "Generally, one of our strengths has been our attack," Arthur said. "When I saw a couple of those Wanderers strips at the start of the tournament, I'd certainly have preferred to play Sri Lanka there than at Centurion where the wicket was tailor-made for the subcontinent.

"We've seen what's happened to Sri Lanka at the Wanderers, with balls that have bounced above stump height. If I could have picked, I'd most definitely have played Sri Lanka at the Wanderers. But that was not to be."

Not to be. Those three words are fast becoming South Africa's motto at major championships, and Smith accepted that the well of mitigating circumstances had run dry. "There really are no excuses to be made anymore," he said. "It's the responsibility of the group of players that sit in that room now to go and perform better in these tournaments. We've been hugely consistent with the results that we've turned out, so this is a very disappointing moment for us."

No one would have been more distraught than the man who walked out to bat in Sydney with a broken hand, the individual whose strength of will scripted a famous Test, and series victory at Edgbaston last summer. Those who failed around him could well be targets for the C word, but anyone that uses it in relation to Smith is ignorant of both cricket and the English language. If they ever remade Braveheart, he'd be on the shortlist to play the lead.

All of that is scant consolation though, after another party where the hosts end up being sent to bed early. Before the World Twenty20 this June, South Africa switched their apparel sponsors. Out went Hummel and in came Reebok. If this culture of failure on the biggest stage is allowed to grow even deeper roots though, they may just have to change the colour of the kit, from green to All Black. And that really would be the unkindest cut of all.

Dileep Premachandran is an associate editor at Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • DazTaylor on September 29, 2009, 6:18 GMT

    DesertFox - they leave SA due to their racist Target System, ie if two equally capable players are eligible to play, then the non white will be picked (Justin Ontong anyone?).

    Of course, it only works one way, the SA football team doesn't field any whites.

  • DazTaylor on September 29, 2009, 6:05 GMT

    Cumon - you quite clearly didn't read my post before you posted your utter drivel. I will add it is nothing to do with luck why SA fail so often, they are a bunch of chokers. I will add once more - Law 1.2 states it is up to the umpires and umpires alone to allow runners, Strauss had nowt to do with it. Also, cramp is not an injury, it is a lack of fitness. Now get over it and stop choking.

  • SpottedHyena on September 29, 2009, 1:04 GMT

    lol @ DesertFox - Why India? They are even worse - the only reason they won the T20 in 2007 is coz SA had to go out of their own tournament. If SA didn't lose that game India was out of the competition before the semis (like they will do this week too). SA almost always goes out to the eventual champion. But you are right on the years of BS - I decided in June not to get my hopes up for this one either- I just laugh it off (to hide my broken heart).

  • u3968841 on September 29, 2009, 0:46 GMT

    "I don't know if I want to be likened to Arjuna [Ranatunga]"

    says Graeme Smith.. I suppose that Smith is a bit fitter.. but Arjuna did lead his side to a World Cup victory!

  • CumOn on September 28, 2009, 22:26 GMT

    Well some one might say its an excuse but if we look back, since 1992 world cup, in every major tournament its not only the SA's team performance but their luck has been breaking hearts of the fans. This year it happened again as they had to play all on subcontinental pitches at their home ground. Secondly Mr. Andrew Strauss who was pictured as a very good sportsman by English media, showed what he really is. He didn't allow Smith a runner when it was due. Two contrasting captains, one is brave, confident and capable of playing while injured and the other one is fearful and inconsistent about his decisions.

  • proteasfan99 on September 28, 2009, 17:15 GMT

    i though it was time for the older blogs especially boucher, kallis n to a lesser extent Gibbs to put their hands up....Graeme was fantastic...we bowled badly and played badly throughout the tournament...we need to do more work and i think the media puts a lot of pressure and expectation on the players....i would like to forget this display of cricket and i think South Africa were careless to go into such a tournament with little preparation... L'm sure more warm up matches against even Australian n Indian A sides as their main teams were on duty would have done a favour to us....Pakistan was also not on international duty..

  • Pirki1 on September 28, 2009, 16:39 GMT

    I think its acurse being world No 1 in this tournament. SL defeated SA when SA was at the top of the ladder, then Pakistan defeated india when Indians were world No. 1. I think its Australia's turn now as they are playing against india.

  • hotmale on September 28, 2009, 13:53 GMT

    Well the problem with South African cricket team is their "ATTITUDE & APPROACH" . They THINK that they are champions and their team is the best in this world. They think that none can beat South African team coz they have best fielders, good spinners, best fast bowlers, best batsmens..But they forgot that you cannot win matches on these labels only. You have to perform with responsibility on the day to win pressure games.

    If you note every time they are defeated, all their commentators will say that this was the biggest upset of this tournament. You can hear this crap from Mr. Kepler Wessels all the time. I am always shocked to hear his views during south african matches. The way Boucher, AB,Kallis, Gibbs, Morkel,botha, van Merve, got out was unpardonable but yet my mr. kepler was giving justifications. The way S.A. bowled was so poor that club level bowlers can bowl better than that. I dont see any accountability in S.A team for their performances. Thats why they make same mistakes

  • Vakbar on September 28, 2009, 13:23 GMT

    No disrepect intended, as this is a good article, but why does every article by an Indian author always make mention of some Indian related cricket theme - even if the protagonists here are not Indian? This happens so often, and whilst understandable, should really be curtailed.

  • DazTaylor on September 28, 2009, 11:22 GMT

    Dear oh dear Popcorn. I do suggest you learn the Laws of the Game, just like a lot of reporters need to. Law 1.2 states that only the umpires can authorise a runner, the fielding captain is irrelevant. Besidea, cramp is NOT an injury. It is either a lack of fitness or lack of preperation.

    I also find criticism from South Africans for lack of sportsmanship as hilarious as it was from Australians, what with the South African track record of 'sportsmanship'.

  • DazTaylor on September 29, 2009, 6:18 GMT

    DesertFox - they leave SA due to their racist Target System, ie if two equally capable players are eligible to play, then the non white will be picked (Justin Ontong anyone?).

    Of course, it only works one way, the SA football team doesn't field any whites.

  • DazTaylor on September 29, 2009, 6:05 GMT

    Cumon - you quite clearly didn't read my post before you posted your utter drivel. I will add it is nothing to do with luck why SA fail so often, they are a bunch of chokers. I will add once more - Law 1.2 states it is up to the umpires and umpires alone to allow runners, Strauss had nowt to do with it. Also, cramp is not an injury, it is a lack of fitness. Now get over it and stop choking.

  • SpottedHyena on September 29, 2009, 1:04 GMT

    lol @ DesertFox - Why India? They are even worse - the only reason they won the T20 in 2007 is coz SA had to go out of their own tournament. If SA didn't lose that game India was out of the competition before the semis (like they will do this week too). SA almost always goes out to the eventual champion. But you are right on the years of BS - I decided in June not to get my hopes up for this one either- I just laugh it off (to hide my broken heart).

  • u3968841 on September 29, 2009, 0:46 GMT

    "I don't know if I want to be likened to Arjuna [Ranatunga]"

    says Graeme Smith.. I suppose that Smith is a bit fitter.. but Arjuna did lead his side to a World Cup victory!

  • CumOn on September 28, 2009, 22:26 GMT

    Well some one might say its an excuse but if we look back, since 1992 world cup, in every major tournament its not only the SA's team performance but their luck has been breaking hearts of the fans. This year it happened again as they had to play all on subcontinental pitches at their home ground. Secondly Mr. Andrew Strauss who was pictured as a very good sportsman by English media, showed what he really is. He didn't allow Smith a runner when it was due. Two contrasting captains, one is brave, confident and capable of playing while injured and the other one is fearful and inconsistent about his decisions.

  • proteasfan99 on September 28, 2009, 17:15 GMT

    i though it was time for the older blogs especially boucher, kallis n to a lesser extent Gibbs to put their hands up....Graeme was fantastic...we bowled badly and played badly throughout the tournament...we need to do more work and i think the media puts a lot of pressure and expectation on the players....i would like to forget this display of cricket and i think South Africa were careless to go into such a tournament with little preparation... L'm sure more warm up matches against even Australian n Indian A sides as their main teams were on duty would have done a favour to us....Pakistan was also not on international duty..

  • Pirki1 on September 28, 2009, 16:39 GMT

    I think its acurse being world No 1 in this tournament. SL defeated SA when SA was at the top of the ladder, then Pakistan defeated india when Indians were world No. 1. I think its Australia's turn now as they are playing against india.

  • hotmale on September 28, 2009, 13:53 GMT

    Well the problem with South African cricket team is their "ATTITUDE & APPROACH" . They THINK that they are champions and their team is the best in this world. They think that none can beat South African team coz they have best fielders, good spinners, best fast bowlers, best batsmens..But they forgot that you cannot win matches on these labels only. You have to perform with responsibility on the day to win pressure games.

    If you note every time they are defeated, all their commentators will say that this was the biggest upset of this tournament. You can hear this crap from Mr. Kepler Wessels all the time. I am always shocked to hear his views during south african matches. The way Boucher, AB,Kallis, Gibbs, Morkel,botha, van Merve, got out was unpardonable but yet my mr. kepler was giving justifications. The way S.A. bowled was so poor that club level bowlers can bowl better than that. I dont see any accountability in S.A team for their performances. Thats why they make same mistakes

  • Vakbar on September 28, 2009, 13:23 GMT

    No disrepect intended, as this is a good article, but why does every article by an Indian author always make mention of some Indian related cricket theme - even if the protagonists here are not Indian? This happens so often, and whilst understandable, should really be curtailed.

  • DazTaylor on September 28, 2009, 11:22 GMT

    Dear oh dear Popcorn. I do suggest you learn the Laws of the Game, just like a lot of reporters need to. Law 1.2 states that only the umpires can authorise a runner, the fielding captain is irrelevant. Besidea, cramp is NOT an injury. It is either a lack of fitness or lack of preperation.

    I also find criticism from South Africans for lack of sportsmanship as hilarious as it was from Australians, what with the South African track record of 'sportsmanship'.

  • DesertFox on September 28, 2009, 11:16 GMT

    15 years of this bull from SA. Other than the 1992 WC, they must have entered every ICC tournament since then ranked 1 or 2? What to show, one Champions Trophy? What irks the most is the flood of talent that eminates from the country, so much so that half the England team are from SA! Some ability to hang on to your players (and supporters) might help. Had enough of this choking rubbish - think it is time to 'do a KP myself', come on India!

  • zee_gee on September 28, 2009, 10:48 GMT

    hi,

    Although i am pakistani fan but watching South Africa going down yet again was painful. i still remember, it all started from 1992 world cup and still going on.

    I can understand the frustration of Smit and co but i am sure they are wonderful side and will do better in future tournaments. SA has always been a wonderful side to watch and i am sure there will be a day soon when they will lift a major trophy. They are well prepared and more importantly behaved unit. They will have their moments and we will pray for them.

    To all SA cricketers: you have been the gr8 ambassadors of your country and are as part of cricketing world, we are all proud of you.

  • Rooboy on September 28, 2009, 10:29 GMT

    And again Smtih says they didn't choke... it's time SA stopped living in denial and tried to actually face up to whatever their issue is, because clearly there is an issue. Maybe just try to go and and play cricket instead of telling everyone else (and trying to convince themselves) of how good they are. Sure, McGrath and Warne were champions at pre-series/pre-tournament barbs, to the stage of being over the top, but there is one massive difference there ...

  • anderson2010 on September 28, 2009, 10:13 GMT

    Well done Strauss. He did the right thing by not allowing a runner for smith. Very Astute captainship. hats off to him.

  • lucyferr on September 28, 2009, 9:38 GMT

    Nice article, but I didn't get the quip at the end about an All Black uniform being a symbol of failure - the All Blacks are feared for more than their haka! Unless, of course, you were referring to the All Blacks generally failing at the rugby world cup despite being the number one ranked team. But even that is not a great comparison - the only time that the RWC was held in NZ, way back in 1987, the All Blacks won it.

  • popcorn on September 28, 2009, 9:11 GMT

    The Scheduling of The Champions Trophy should have played Teams at least one of the three Group matches on the second venue. Shocking that South Africa were asked to play ONLY at the Centurion. Andrew Strauss is inconsistent in his sportsmanship. We've seen it at Cardiff againdt Australia - sending Moobs the vet and the bearded good-for nothing to waste precious time. Then recalling Angelo Mathews. And here, not allowing Smith a runner.

  • Kirstenfan on September 28, 2009, 8:51 GMT

    Seriously, I've watched all these events and the sameness to the situation is unbelievable. Especially to the T20 - we had an off day with the ball, then completely confused run chase. Duminy does not look like an ODI batsman and gets bogged down. AB chucked his wicket away. Mickey Arthur sits there looking dumber than Herschelle, the pain and embarrassment once again...

  • Nipun on September 28, 2009, 6:00 GMT

    Teams which occupy the no.1 slot in the rankings should not provide lame excuses like the wickets & the conditions.Smith's comments show that they still don't believe that they are the no.1 team in the world(I don't know the rankings at the time of this comment but SA must at least be no.2 if not no.1 & that too by a very small margin).

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  • Nipun on September 28, 2009, 6:00 GMT

    Teams which occupy the no.1 slot in the rankings should not provide lame excuses like the wickets & the conditions.Smith's comments show that they still don't believe that they are the no.1 team in the world(I don't know the rankings at the time of this comment but SA must at least be no.2 if not no.1 & that too by a very small margin).

  • Kirstenfan on September 28, 2009, 8:51 GMT

    Seriously, I've watched all these events and the sameness to the situation is unbelievable. Especially to the T20 - we had an off day with the ball, then completely confused run chase. Duminy does not look like an ODI batsman and gets bogged down. AB chucked his wicket away. Mickey Arthur sits there looking dumber than Herschelle, the pain and embarrassment once again...

  • popcorn on September 28, 2009, 9:11 GMT

    The Scheduling of The Champions Trophy should have played Teams at least one of the three Group matches on the second venue. Shocking that South Africa were asked to play ONLY at the Centurion. Andrew Strauss is inconsistent in his sportsmanship. We've seen it at Cardiff againdt Australia - sending Moobs the vet and the bearded good-for nothing to waste precious time. Then recalling Angelo Mathews. And here, not allowing Smith a runner.

  • lucyferr on September 28, 2009, 9:38 GMT

    Nice article, but I didn't get the quip at the end about an All Black uniform being a symbol of failure - the All Blacks are feared for more than their haka! Unless, of course, you were referring to the All Blacks generally failing at the rugby world cup despite being the number one ranked team. But even that is not a great comparison - the only time that the RWC was held in NZ, way back in 1987, the All Blacks won it.

  • anderson2010 on September 28, 2009, 10:13 GMT

    Well done Strauss. He did the right thing by not allowing a runner for smith. Very Astute captainship. hats off to him.

  • Rooboy on September 28, 2009, 10:29 GMT

    And again Smtih says they didn't choke... it's time SA stopped living in denial and tried to actually face up to whatever their issue is, because clearly there is an issue. Maybe just try to go and and play cricket instead of telling everyone else (and trying to convince themselves) of how good they are. Sure, McGrath and Warne were champions at pre-series/pre-tournament barbs, to the stage of being over the top, but there is one massive difference there ...

  • zee_gee on September 28, 2009, 10:48 GMT

    hi,

    Although i am pakistani fan but watching South Africa going down yet again was painful. i still remember, it all started from 1992 world cup and still going on.

    I can understand the frustration of Smit and co but i am sure they are wonderful side and will do better in future tournaments. SA has always been a wonderful side to watch and i am sure there will be a day soon when they will lift a major trophy. They are well prepared and more importantly behaved unit. They will have their moments and we will pray for them.

    To all SA cricketers: you have been the gr8 ambassadors of your country and are as part of cricketing world, we are all proud of you.

  • DesertFox on September 28, 2009, 11:16 GMT

    15 years of this bull from SA. Other than the 1992 WC, they must have entered every ICC tournament since then ranked 1 or 2? What to show, one Champions Trophy? What irks the most is the flood of talent that eminates from the country, so much so that half the England team are from SA! Some ability to hang on to your players (and supporters) might help. Had enough of this choking rubbish - think it is time to 'do a KP myself', come on India!

  • DazTaylor on September 28, 2009, 11:22 GMT

    Dear oh dear Popcorn. I do suggest you learn the Laws of the Game, just like a lot of reporters need to. Law 1.2 states that only the umpires can authorise a runner, the fielding captain is irrelevant. Besidea, cramp is NOT an injury. It is either a lack of fitness or lack of preperation.

    I also find criticism from South Africans for lack of sportsmanship as hilarious as it was from Australians, what with the South African track record of 'sportsmanship'.

  • Vakbar on September 28, 2009, 13:23 GMT

    No disrepect intended, as this is a good article, but why does every article by an Indian author always make mention of some Indian related cricket theme - even if the protagonists here are not Indian? This happens so often, and whilst understandable, should really be curtailed.