Smith backs Proteas to dump choke tag


Harare- Former South African captain Graeme Smith is backing the Proteas to end years of choking on the big stage, and burying the ghost that has stalked them for more than 20 years, by winning the 2015 ICC Cricket World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.

The South Africans go into the World Cup as one of the favourites, powered by a generation of superb players who have dominated the game in recent years, but weighed down by a psychological strain that has destroyed their battles in the past.

In skipper AB de Villiers, Hashim Amla and Faf du Plessis, the Proteas have a group of batsmen capable of leading a successful World Cup run chase while their attack, led by Dale Steyn on the pacy and bouncy wickets Down Under, could be a handful for anyone.

But for all the potential, of world champions, which they will carry across the Indian Ocean into their adventure in Australia and New Zealand, there is also the tag of chokers, which has stalked them since the 1992 Cricket World Cup, which could come back to haunt them.

Smith will not be part of the men in gold and green who will plunge into battle, hoping to become the first group of Proteas to win the World Cup, after retiring from international cricket in March last year having captained the team, on the Test front, in 109 Tests, which is in itself a world record.

He took over from Shaun Pollock, as the Proteas skipper, after the 2003 Cricket World Cup, where the South Africans choked once again, but handed over the captaincy of the ODI team to De Villiers after the 2011 Cricket World Cup.

Smith played 197 ODIs for the Proteas and he concedes that his men have, at times, crumbled under the pressure of trying to win a World Cup, although he believes that this generation of players has the potential to end that lengthy wait for glory.

The former South African skipper said the current Proteas’ team have to embrace the tag of chokers, even if it might not be justified, and deal with the challenges that come with trying to beat their opponents in Australia and New Zealand.

“Regardless of whether or not the chokers tag is justified, it is a label that the current Proteas side has to live with in preparation for the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015,” Smith wrote on the official website of the 2015 ICC Cricket World Cup.

“They have made peace with it given their history, but are resolute in their belief that they are on the verge of shedding this tag once and for all.

“I know that the current squad are good enough to win this year’s tournament and have I expected that they will go deep.

“I am hoping that come 29 March 2015, this team will have a new tag of ‘the history-makers’.”

Smith conceded that the way the Proteas have been eliminated, at some of the past World Cups, has given their critics justification to label them a team that chokes under the weight of pressure.

“I cannot deny that the Proteas have exited the ICC Cricket World Cups in bizarre circumstances (Sydney 1992, Birmingham 1999 and Durban 2003) but they have also been outplayed on the day in others (Karachi 1996, St. Lucia 2007 and Dhaka 2011),” Smith wrote.

“The word ‘choke’ is a term that has various connotations and also found significance within the sporting world.

“This term has shadowed the Proteas for the best part of two decades in the context of the ICC Cricket World Cup. It was spoken about when I made my debut and still about upon my retirement 12 years later.

“The history of the Proteas in the ICC Cricket World Cups is recorded in cricket folklore, not for the losses themselves, but for the context of the losses.

“There is a certain degree of pride that can be taken as a result of the fact that for 19 years the Proteas were able to maintain a consistent standard around, leading up to, and during the respective ICC Cricket World Cups that ensured they were always amongst the tournament favourites.

“It is in turn for this very reason that the losses were always magnified due to the fact that these normally went against the form book and bucked the trend that the team had set.

“For three of these losses, I was either on the field or in the changing-room, and for the other three I can still recall exactly where I was as well when they occurred. I personally poured over our exits in the three tournaments in which I played wondering how the end result could have turned out differently.”

Smith says noone will ever know if the Proteas, in each of the tournaments that they crumbled under pressure, would have gone on to win the World Cup.

“At each of these ICC Cricket World Cups, the Proteas showed good form during the event,” wrote Smith.

“However, I cannot categorically say that we were without doubt the best team or would absolutely have gone on to win any of the tournaments if we had got through our knock-out game.

“We can only surmise as to what would have been.”

February 2015
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