AB: “We have choked in the past”

Speaking ahead of the 12-team competition, which kicks off today (Tuesday 18 September), de Villiers was clearly expecting the question to be asked about South Africa’s consistent failure since readmission to capture a world title in a one-day series. Their only success to date was in the inaugural Champions Trophy in Bangladesh in 1998.

“South Africa is a powerhouse when it comes to cricket but, when you enter big tournaments, does it play on your mind that the major trophy remains elusive?” was the question put to de Villiers in the opening press conference.

Possibly the most famous of all of the Proteas’ chokes: the 1999 World Cup semi-final versus Australia

The Proteas skipper, earnestly belted out an immediate response, one which suggested that he and the management team have clearly been helping him rehearse an answer in the mirror. “I am going to be very honest with you. I am going to put it out there straight up front. We have choked in the past and we know about that – if that’s the word you are looking for. It is as simple as that. We have had some really bad experiences in the past, but I would like to emphasise that it is past.”

“We have worked really hard with a whole new management team, who have given us a lot of energy and new ideas. We will approach this tournament differently and we would like to win the pressure situations. We are prepared and really excited to getting out there on the field.”

Before last year’s Cricket World Cup on the sub-continent, the South African team avoided the c-word (“choker”) at all times, vehemently denying that they were cricket’s great chokers on the world stage. “We are not focusing on what happened in the past,” a convincing de Villiers was quoted as saying.

In another such interview, spinner Johan Botha said, “The chokers thing isn’t really fair. The same can be said for a lot of other teams. Australia won the World Cup for the last three times, which means that – like us – no other team won the tournament.”

Thus, when that inevitable demise occurred – against New Zealand in the quarter-final – the tag reared its ugly head again and merely provided evidence that the denial strategy had been the incorrect one.

The “How Not To Choke” book…

The Proteas’ preparation for this competition has been iffy if one is to gauge only the 20/20 games and ignore the Test match successes and drawn one-day series. “During the England tour, two of the games were rain-interrupted (11 and 9 over games), but Twenty20 games are fast-paced and you have to think on your feet and adapt under pressure all the time, so the England tour did give us the chance of achieving that,” de Villiers said.

While that is true, it was a lack of batting practice for some key members of the squad, such as opener Richard Levi, that will be of most concern. Levi, who on Friday collected the ICC’s T20I Performance of the Year award for his innings of 117 not out off 51 balls against New Zealand in Hamilton in February, only scored 8, 0 and 1 in the England series.

The tournament has snuck up on us all rather swiftly, and if South Africa’s record in this tournament is anything to go by – eliminated in 2007 in the group stages by virtue of an inferior net run-rate, albeit losing only one game; let down by a poor batting effort against a weak Pakistani team in the 2009 semi-final, and then a similar defeat to Pakistan in 2010 in the Super Eights – we should all be expecting the jitters to occur again and the team leaving Sri Lanka empty-handed.

Or should we? Yes, that die-hard patriotic supporter in me believes yet again, that we have a sniff of doing it. And ironically, I will be visibly upset should history repeat itself.

This article originally appeared on The South African in 2012.

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