Silverware, not rankings, important to us - Steyn
Dale Steyn insists South Africa will never truly consider themselves the world's pre-eminent team until they break their big-tournament jinx and claim an ICC trophy. South Africa entered the Champions Trophy as the world's top-ranked team, only to crash out in the first round and perpetuate the "chokers" tag that has hounded them for a decade.
The South Africans have in the past dismissed suggestions of wilting under the spotlight, but Steyn believes the time has come for the team to conduct a thorough review of their approach to big tournaments. The world's top-ranked Test fast bowler admitted the lack of ICC trophies was gnawing at his team-mates, and tainting their status as the best team in international cricket.
"You want to win silverware, you want to be known as a team that walks in to a competition and is able to dominate," Steyn told Cricinfo's Switch-Hit podcast. "Being ranked No. 1 in Tests and ODIs is a fantastic feeling but every year it changes and it works on points. You won't be able to take home any silverware from that. Unfortunately, my grandkids will never be able to look at me and say I won a Champions Trophy in South Africa. That's where it truly lies. It's a reflection of how well you've played. When you walk into a tournament those rankings really mean nothing.
"I'm [looking at] 2-0 now - two tournaments in one year and we haven't been able to bring home any silverware. It is disappointing, we want to be the best the best team in the world, we want to be two steps ahead of other sides. It's something that we really have to sit down and look at. People are saying we're the No. 1 team because of ranking, but it doesn't mean anything once you walk onto a cricket field. We've got to sit back and look at ways of trying to stay two steps ahead. Teams will catch up and will try and take your ideas to be able to stay at the top ... so it's something for us to really look at now."
The failure to reach the semi-finals of the Champions Trophy continued a worrying trend for South Africa at ICC events. Not since the inaugural Champions Trophy 11 years ago has a South African side claimed a major tournament, and their most recent exits from the World Cup, the World Twenty20 and, now, a Champions Trophy at home have prompted another round of questions over the team's ability to cope with the pressures of the game's grandest stages.
South Africa's 55-run defeat in a rain-effected match against Sri Lanka was only mildly surprising, given the strength of Kumar Sangakkara's side and the fact that South Africa had not played an international match since the World Twenty20 in June. Far more shocking was their 22-run loss to England - a team barely a week removed from ignominy of a 6-1 ODI series defeat to Australia - in a result that sealed their Champions Trophy exit.
England will return to South Africa next month for a winter Test and ODI tour, and Steyn predicts Andrew Strauss' men will encounter a more torrid time. "They came back from the Ashes series and one-day series a bit of a wounded animal," he said. "It's always like that when you're dealing with teams like that. They've almost got nothing to lose. They came out and played fearless cricket and it really paid off for them.
"I think coming back to South Africa for their ODI and Test series will be different. They know that they're going to be playing against one side for the whole summer and they're going to have to play their cards pretty right, whereas in this respect they can play fearless cricket because anybody that gets thrown in their direction they're quite happy to tackle.
"The last time I played against England in South Africa they beat us ... (but) England will also know that they're playing against a Test team that's already beaten them. That might be in the back of their heads. It's been the same players for the last couple of years. We know them. We know what their strengths and weaknesses are. It's just a matter of being able to sit back, do our homework and trying to stay two steps ahead this time around."
Steyn supported the calls of his chief executive, Gerald Majola, and chairman of selectors, Mike Procter, for Graeme Smith and Mickey Arthur to be retained as South Africa captain and coach respectively. Both have been the target of criticism in the wake of their side's Champions Trophy exit, but with South Africa still ranked No. 1 in Test cricket and No. 3 in ODIs, Steyn is adamant change is not required.
"At the end of the day, everyone's going to point fingers at your coach and your captain," he said. "(But) I will put up my hand and say that there are elevn players in the team and we take responsibility whether we win or lose. I feel massively for Mickey and Graeme. They've done extremely well over the last couple of years, basically herding this team together and looking after us. We've been a pretty tight unit over the last couple of years. Unfortunately, we just haven't been able to bring home the silverware in tournaments like this."
Alex Brown is deputy editor of Cricinfo