Gary Kirsten, former South Africa opening batsman and India coach, believes that South Africa's early World Cup exit was caused by their fragile middle order. South Africa crashed out of the tournament in the quarter-finals after a 49-run defeat to New Zealand. They failed to chase 222, after losing eight wickets for 64 runs.
"The most important thing in those games is to have an experienced middle order," Kirsten said in Mumbai, where his stint as India coach ended with World Cup victory. "I just felt that they fell short in the middle order in this World Cup."
South Africa's middle and lower middle order regularly consisted of JP Duminy, Faf du Plessis and Robin Peterson who collectively scored 426 runs in 21 innings at the tournament. Together, they have played just 135 ODIs. Morne van Wyk and Johan Botha were also used, but neither were able to firm up what became known as a soft middle order.
Daniel Vettori admitted that New Zealand thought that if they could get South Africa's top four of Graeme Smith, Hashim Amla, Jacques Kallis and AB de Villiers out, they could exert pressure on a frail middle order. Former South Africa coach Mickey Arthur also blamed the middle order for the team's exit and said that the chokers tag still affects them and will only leave them when they win an ICC event.
Kirsten also thinks the term "chokers" had a negative effect on the team, although like outgoing coach Corrie van Zyl, he blamed the media for perpetuating the word. "It's tough what they are going through. You guys [the media] really spin it big that they are chokers. It is not a nice word to be labelled. I understand opposition media using it to their advantage but the worry is when the South African media put it out there."
Having played in three World Cups for South Africa, including the 1999 event where the term chokers was coined, Kirsten feels a certain empathy for the what the current crop of players are going through. "I think [Graeme] Smith said after the game that they lost that ,'We do not know [what goes wrong], we are trying our best and we doing what we can. We want to get over this but we don't know how.' Please understand it's not easy. I feel sad for them."
Despite their recent troubles Kirsten has no doubt about the quality of the South African side. "They are a great cricket team and they will continue to be." Kirsten played 101 Tests and 185 ODIs for South Africa and is widely considered to be among the favourites for the position of head coach, which van Zyl vacated at the end of the tournament. South Africa are set to announce their shortlist of six names for the position in the next few days.