Proteas’ all-star team chokes again on the big stage
HARARE – They came on a mission to finally exorcise the demons that have seen them being labelled world cricket’s ultimate chokers and, with the globe’s two top ranked batsmen and bowlers as part of their arsenal, there was reason to fuel expectations back home that the so-called golden generation would end years of pain.
Captain AB de Villiers and David Warner arrived in England as the number one and two ranked One Day International batsmen and three of their teammates – wicket- keeper batsman Quinton de Kock (fourth), Faf du Plessis (sixth) and Hashim Amla (10th) – were ranked among the top 10.
Young paceman Kagiso Rabada also arrived in England as the number one ranked ODI bowler in the world with spinner Imran Tahir ranked as the second best bowler in this format of the game on the globe.
For a team, and country, which has suffered a lot of abuse around the world for the manner in which the Proteas have seemingly perfected the art of choking on the big stage, there were huge expectations that this was the group of players that would end that nightmare. After all, this was just an eight-team ICC Champions Trophy tournament and all the Proteas needed was just to finish, at least, second in their group and a ticket to the semi-finals would be theirs.
And, if they could win this tournament in England, of all places, many believed South Africa would finally exorcise the ghost that has haunted them since they somehow conspired to lose an ICC World Cup semi-final, against eventual cham- pions Australia, when victory appeared certain in 1999.
Back then, the power-hitting Lance Klusener looked set to power the Proteas to the final but a farcical run-out, which left his partner Allan Donald rooted to his spot as Klusener dashed to steal a single, ended with one of the sport’s iconic moments with the Aussies tak- ing full advantage to tie the scores to advance into the final.
Maybe, such farcical run-outs are in the DNA of the Proteas, when it comes to big world cricket tournaments in England.
For, when the end came for South Africa at the 2017 ICC Cricket World Cup after a humiliating eight-wicket defeat at the hands of India in a group game they needed to win to stay alive, there was another run-out whose image will not only haunt the Proteas for some time but sent Twit- ter into an explosion as the globe feasted on their misery.
Du Plessis and David Miller, somehow, found themselves trying to dive in, at the same end, after a horrible mix-up and the latter was run-out as South Africa laboured to score just 191 at the Oval in Lon- don.
In reply, the Indians coasted to an easy win, losing just two wickets to dump the Proteas out of the tournament.
“Yet again a major global tour- nament has seen South Africa exit early and in less than flattering circumstances,’’ journalist David Middleton wrote on the authorita- tive cricket.com.au website.
“The latest implosion by South Africa in a global 50-over tour- nament shows little has changed for the Proteas in the intervening years.
“Nobody can claim they are not a great one-day side, and deservedly entered this tournament as the top-ranked ODI team in the world.
“A look back at the Rainbow Nation’s colourful history in global events suggests it would be a brave man to say it was the last. The roll call is a Protea supporter’s night- mare, a litany of tragi-comic cir- cumstances and poor decisions that has manifested into sports ultimate ‘monkey on the back’ weight under which the players continue to drown.’’
De Villiers, who arrived in Eng- land as the world number one ODI batsman, simply failed to fire and scored just a combined 20 runs in three innings for his country and, for a player of his magnitude, this was as poor a return as they will ever come.
“For those who love football it’s like Cristiano Ronaldo having no shot for three straight matches at a tournament like the Euro Championships, both on or off target, and if you think that’s hard to believe then you are in the same position as the Proteas fans right now, in terms of how they can’t believe what has just happened,’’ one comment on Facebook was as brutal as it was analytical.
But De Villiers said he could still take the Proteas to World Cup glory.
“I can take us to win a World Cup, I believe,” he told a news conference after his team’s painful elimination from the tournament. “I’m a good captain and I can take this team forward.
“There’s more than enough talent and we’ve just got to get it right when it matters most.”
There is no doubt that there is more than enough talent in this
South African team, it’s some- thing even their biggest opponents acknowledge, but what is regularly questioned is the big match temperament, or lack of it, of the Pro- teas when it comes to big tournaments.
To put their final collapse against India into perspective, the Proteas were going very well when they batted first in that match, reaching 116 for the loss of just one wicket before, of course, you read it cor- rectly, the ghosts crept in.
By the 45th over their innings had folded, only for 191, with three batsmen run out.
In sharp contrast, Indian skip- per Virat Kohli and opening bats- man Shikhar Dhawan put together a match-winning 128-run third wicket partnership and Yuvraj Singh finished the Proteas off with a huge six.
But De Villiers remains optimistic.
“Not a lot of people believe that but I think that (winning a tournament) is not that far away,” he said. “It is very difficult to sell it on this kind of performance but that is what I believe in. We are very close as a unit and we have just got to make it work when it matters the most.”
The more the Proteas fail, of course, the more the ghost will haunt them and the more that the questions will be asked about their soft belly.
“There’s always going to be ques- tions until we do get it right. The longer it takes to get over that the harder it will be,” coach Russell Domingo conceded.
Once again, the alarm bells are ringing loudly in the camp of the under-achieving Proteas, the team with all the talent that just don’t appear to have the character to succeed where it most – on the big stages.