Chokers – the tag refuses to leave South Africa. There’s a rare, baffling consistency to the country’s poor performance in big, showcase ICC events. With the passage of every world tournament, the Proteas have been making their ownership of the tag only stronger. And they deserve no sympathy anymore. If a team fails to convert the richness of talent available to it to success with such regularity then there has to be something seriously wrong somewhere. South Africa are either not given to introspection or foolishly confident of their own infallibility.
The South Africa-Sri Lanka ICC World T20 match at Kotla on Monday evening was inconsequential. With the semi-final berths already sealed by other teams, what was involved in the clash between the reigning champions and the forever potential champions was prestige. The Africans made it a one-sided affair by winning the game by eight wickets with lot of balls to spare. Sri Lanka set a low target — 120 — to chase and the only matter of interest in this losers’ face-off was whether South Africa would choke again. They didn’t.
But that was hardly reassuring. By now you know it’s a team that would be outstanding in two-horse races but never win a long race involving several participants. Over the last two decades since they came back into international cricket, South Africa have flattered to deceive so often that as their fan you don’t trust the talent on display anymore. At some point individual talents need to converge into the dynamics of the entity called the team. It is critical in all forms of cricket, including T20I which is customised to be largely individualistic. South Africa have failed here consistently.
We are talking in abstracts, yes, but what else explains a team with such a formidable batting order including the seasoned Hashim Amla, the in-form Quinton de Kock, the explosive Faf du Plessis, the destructive AB de Villiers and a bowling unit boasting of the likes of Dale Steyn, Kyle Abbot, Kagiso Rabada, Chris Morris and Imran Tahir, all proven match-winners, failing to deliver victories? South Africa are also one of the best fielding sides to boot.
Coming back to this version of the T20 World Cup, the Proteas lost their first match to England after setting a target of 229. That’s certainly a mammoth target to chase in this format, no matter how friendly the batting conditions are. The weaknesses in the bowling attack, particularly in the fast bowlers, were evident as the Britons made merry. The bowlers kept coming at them hard with no variation and guile. Against the West Indies, the batsmen failed to deliver. On a low-scoring pitch they could have added 20-odd runs to the total with some disciplined and intelligent batting. They displayed their inability to adapt their batting to new challenges thrown up by pitches.
There were brilliant individual performances all through, but that hardly ensured success for the team. Both the losses, which virtually sealed South Africa's exit, clearly shows several units in the team not working in tandem. This is not a recent problem. That South Africa have been consistently underperforming in big events for a long time proves that it’s a chronic issue. Obviously, the team think tank is not applying itself hard enough.
Maybe this is because of too much reliance on individual brilliance. But cricket is a team game. The level of collective brilliance is what separates superior teams from inferior ones. South Africa must figure out a solution.
India appear to have a similar problem in this World Cup. Take out the magnificent Virat Kohli, and there’s no other player visible. The team as a whole has failed. It would need a great deal of luck to win the cup.