No secret to ending choke jokes for SA

Imran Tahir picked up two wickets in an economical spell AFP

After 22 years, six World Cups, four World T20s and an uncountable number of jokes about the choke, South Africa have stopped searching for an elixir. They have decided the way to approach major tournaments is with the best team they can muster and an understanding of the basic principles of winning and losing.

"There's nothing magical that you can do to win a World Cup," Faf du Plessis said at the team's arrival in Bangladesh. "It's a tournament where you need guys in form and if you have that, you give yourselves a great opportunity to compete. If you can play good cricket during the build up and get to the semis, once you are there, it's just about playing the game. There is nothing different about it. If you don't play to your full potential you are going to get beaten."


Or not.

For a start South Africa have not played enough T20 cricket to know who is in form and who is not. Only one match in their three-game series against Australia took place in full. Another was washed out and a third condensed to a seven-over shootout. "I would have liked to have played some more T20 cricket," du Plessis admitted. Chances are, apart from West Indies and England, every other team feels the same way.

What South Africa do have is a relatively recent strong record on the subcontinent. Last August they beat Sri Lanka in a T20 series on the island and last November they were victorious over Pakistan in the UAE. Both teams had players with the kind of magic fingers that du Plessis thinks will decide this tournament: spinners. That South Africa were successful is a tick in the form column for du Plessis. "We've proven that we can play in these conditions against quality spin," he said. "This tournament is going to be won and lost with spinners."

What South Africa do not have is a reputation for being blessed with exactly that: spinners. But stereotypes date and South African cupboard has started to fill-up in that department. They have three spinners in their squad this time, each offering something different.

The legspinner, Imran Tahir, is the player du Plessis thinks will make the biggest impact and the captain has given him a licence to kill. "He is a guy who takes wickets. It's not required of him to go at two, three or four runs an over. He gets wickets," he said. "Also, we've got JP Duminy who has been bowling very well as a back-up spinner."

Duminy's part-time offspin is fast becoming not so part-time and he has proved an important partnership breaker in the last few months. Left-armer Aaron Phangiso did not get a mention from du Plessis but he is also in the squad, giving South Africa the kind of options teams want when they head into a competition.

Having a slew of spinners alone is not going to win anyone anything, so du Plessis was quick to point out South Africa also have all the other departments covered. "When it comes to Bangladesh, it's not always just spin. The conditions allow for fast bowling as well and we've got a really good bowling attack when it comes to the fast bowlers.

"In our whole batting line-up, we've got destructive hitters. AB de Villiers has proven so many times how destructive he can be. So has David Miller. And then other guys, like Hashim Amla he goes under the radar but he is a high quality batsman. We've got a long batting line-up."

South Africa have got "ourselves covered," just as they have had in the past. The only thing missing is the amnesia to forget the dreaded c-word that keeps popping up and will pop up throughout South Africa's stay at in the tournament and be brought out no matter how far they get.

Du Plessis says they do not need it. He may be right given how captains of the past of dealt with it. Graeme Smith turned it into an expletive of sorts, bristling every time the first syllable was mentioned and glaring so hard at the utterer the person was likely to choke before the whole word came out. That did not work. De Villiers tried reverse psychology with it by embracing the word and saying it as many times in one sentence as he could. That also did not work.

So du Plessis is treating it like any other word. The same as win, lose, champions and losers. All of them are loaded with connotations but du Plessis wants to see only the logic hidden underneath. "You can look at it any way you want but for me, we need to be playing our best cricket. If we arrive on the day and we don't we should get beaten and that goes for every team," he said.

"When it comes to choking, for me it's simple. You need to make sure you give yourself the best opportunity to do well and if you don't and you get beaten on the day, as long as the other team played better cricket, I can accept that." If that happens, he'll hope the rest of South Africa can too.