SA ghosts remain despite clutch performances

March 31, 2014

Four close games, three wins, a scare against a band of Associate minnows and, ultimately, a spot in the ICC World Twenty20 knock-out rounds.
South Africa recovered from a five-run loss to Sri Lanka – in which they needed 19 from the last two overs but could not get across the line – to win their next three contests by a total of nine runs, coming up big in the final moments and becoming Group 1’s first semi-finalists.
Dale Steyn bowled a stunning final over with New Zealand needing seven runs to win with five wickets in hand, conceding just four and taking two wickets to save the Proteas’ tournament. Then in the next match the Netherlands seemed to be cruising to a famous victory that would have done South Africa’s tournament reputation no favours before Imran Tahir and Steyn – and, it has to be said, a complete lack of composure from the Dutch – gave their side an improbable six-run win.
In their final Super 10 match, AB de Villiers and Hashim Amla posted magnificent fifties and the bowlers held on against an England onslaught to secure a two-run victory and a semi-final berth.
Presented with numerous opportunities to live up to their reputation as cricket’s perennial chokers, South Africa passed their Super 10 gut-check and moved on to the knock-out stages in Dhaka, where the heat on the Proteas will only intensify, as it has every time they have had a major title within their reach over the past 15 years.
Despite consistently entering tournaments among the favourites to walk away with the trophy during a prolonged spell of excellence at the international level, South Africa have not won a major title since the 1998 ICC KnockOut Trophy (now the ICC Champions Trophy). Their record in knock-out stage matches has also been extraordinarily poor for a consistently great side, with their last win coming in the quarter-finals of the 2000 KnockOut Trophy.
Along the way, the Proteas have had a number of high-profile melt-downs on the big stage, dating back to the final-over shenanigans in their 1999 ICC Cricket World Cup semi-final against Australia, which famously ended in a tie even though South Africa needed just one run to win from the final four deliveries. Some disastrous running between the wickets saw the Proteas out of the tournament and leave a legacy of mental frailty.
Four years later, an inability to master the Duckworth/Lewis system condemned South Africa to another tie and elimination in the World Cup group stage, as Mark Boucher, on the advice of his dressing room, blocked the final ball of the match instead of looking for the winning run.
But is it fair that this current squad has to live with the ghosts of the Proteas’ past? Not a single member of those two World Cup squads will take the field in Bangladesh, unless one thinks bowling coach Allan Donald is likely to pad up atone and try to for the 1999 catastrophe.
On the other hand, seven players in this World Twenty20 squad were a part of South Africa’s last notable collapse in a World Cup knock-out match, when they failed to chase down New Zealand’s 221 after reaching 108-2 in 24 overs and capitulated for 172 in 43.2. Elite performers like Steyn, de Villiers and Amla have been in the side for a number of years but have been curiously unable to lift the Proteas to victory in a single elimination match.
This much is clear: despite captain Faf du Plessis’ assertion before the tournament that his side arrived as underdogs and would therefore be able to play free of pressure, the Proteas will continue to operate under the microscope until they can get this monkey off their backs and put some silverware in their trophy case.

-With New Age input

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