Image courtesy of: ESPNcricinfo
Former South Africa captain Graeme Smith believes that the Proteas will continue to be known as ‘the chokers’ during World Cups until they win the tournament.
South Africa have slipped up in the last four World Cups as in 1999, their memorable semi-final clash with Australia ended as a tie, which allowed the Baggy Greens to sneak into the final. In 2003, South Africa fatally misread the Duckworth-Lewis equation during a rain-affected match and, due to that huge error, they failed to make it to the knockout stages. In 2007, the Proteas were crushed by Australia in the semi-finals and in 2011, they failed to chase down a fairly simple total in their quater-final match against New Zealand.
“I just think we haven’t played well in the knockout stages for whatever reason,” Smith told ESPNcricinfo. “We’ve either been beaten by a better team, haven’t had the conditions right or have just let ourselves down. So I think it’s a build-up of various things and unfortunately it’s something they’ll never get rid of until we go on and win a tournament. We made some stupid mistakes.”
“I think it’s always been a light-hearted thing, but as an individual when you get to the knockout stage, the amount of times you get asked that question, the amount of times you read it, the amount of times people say it to you, whether it becomes an internal pressure…I don’t know. It’s something each individual player can own up to, it gets thrown down the South African team’s throats in this tournament so often that you can’t get away from it. It’s about fronting up, it’s about dealing with it, its about saying, ‘Look we haven’t won a tournament yet, we haven’t won a knockout game yet but it’s about facing up and winning’.”
South Africa have enjoyed a lot of success in all three formats over the past couple of months and Smith feels that the national team finally have the right group of players to lead the country to World Cup glory.
“For us, when I look at this year, I feel like it’s a good opportunity for many reasons – we have match-winners with both bat and ball, more than we’ve ever had in the top five,” Smith said. “I think we’ve got a great top five. A lot of guys who can win with the bat. The key changes we have in this line up is that we’ve got attacking bowling, the one that can take wickets and we have an attacking spinner which is a big thing for a South African team.
“I think the challenges are going to be the all-rounders and the middle order but I think outside that, conditions is huge for us. If you look at it, 90% of conditions played in sub-continental conditions and I think the challenge for us is, we’ve got an opportunity in Australia and New Zealand, conditions we’ve done well in, in the last two to three years and I think with the team we’ve got a good chance.”
Speaking about South Africa’s chances of winning the World Cup, legendary India batsman Rahul Dravid said: “South Africa haven’t performed to their potential so if you come up against them in a knockout game, you will have the history that they’re going to be feeling the pressure because they’re constantly being asked about this. And until they win one, they’re always going to be asked because they’ve had some phenomenal signs over the last few years, and you’d think they’d have won a World Cup.
“When I look at some of the numbers of South Africa of the World Cups of the games they’ve lost in the knockouts, I don’t think that they’ve really choked. I think you choke when you find yourself in a winning position and let it slip. Other than ’99 with Lance Klusener, they had a winning position that they found themselves in, none of the other World Cups they were actually in a winning position. They just didn’t play well, they didn’t play up to their potential and that can happen, but as Graeme said, this is a good opportunity.”