ICC Champions Trophy 2017: South Africa's traditional inability to handle pressure haunted them in loss to Pakistan

It is not known if ICC Chief Executive Dave Richardson witnessed the rain-truncated match between Pakistan and his country, South Africa. If he had, it would have been with a familiar feeling of the team’s mental inadequacy in crucial stages of major international matches.

Richardson would have firsthand knowledge of South Africa’s frailties. He had played in the Hero Cup semifinal against India when his team needed a mere 5 runs from the final over bowled by Sachin Tendulkar. A non-regular bowler was pitted against a Brian McMillan. Yet by the end of that over, Fannie de Villiers, McMilan and Allan Donald combined could not score more than a run apiece.

South Africa made the wrong calls under pressure against Pakistan. AP

South Africa made the wrong calls under pressure against Pakistan. AP

Their feet had turned jelly, their thinking muddled and they were so overcome by pressure that they could not even put bat to ball.

In fact this inability to rise to the occasion has spelt South Africa’s doom in many a tournament, including editions of the World Cup.

Man for man the Proteas fielded a team far superior to Pakistan’s. They had a formidable bowling side, brilliant fielders and some of the most gifted batsmen in world cricket. But while Pakistan, who were in a must-win situation called upon their ‘A’ game, South Africa failed to play to potential as they were once again let down by their fragile temperament.

How else could they justify this loss? They had everything going for them, including the outcome of the toss. They chose not to chase because they were uncertain of their batsmen’s ability to handle the pressure of a run chase. This, coming from a team ranked number one in ODIs and playing a team ranked eighth revealed their defeatist frame of mind. After all with threat of rains looming over every match in this tournament and a dreadful Duckworth-Lewis rain rule to contend with, any captain would blindly opt to chase.

But South Africa are not “any side”. They are traditional chokers and hence their strength or weakness is not qualified in terms of batting or bowling prowess but by the ability to withstand pressure.

On Wednesday they were done in by that intangible element called pressure and it showed when they succumbed to a “bluff bowler”. Left arm spinner Imad Wasim would be called just that in any colloquial regional language in any of India’s cricket maidans. He is a “bluff spinner” or “straight spinner” whose ball does not turn at all. Every now and then he sends down arm deliveries that come into a right hander and that seemed to have completely confounded the South African batsman.

In the match against India he was belted for 66 runs in his 9 overs. This included the three massive sixes struck by Hardik Pandya. Yet South Africa, bogged down by expectations and pressure not only failed to take the battle to him, but also allowed him to get away by conceding just 20 runs in eight overs. Besides they gifted two crucial wickets, of opener Hashim Amla and skipper AB de Villiers (a first ball duck).

Indeed the manner in which the Proteas succumbed to pace and spin alike was appalling. Most of the time this was caused by pressure playing havoc with footwork. The leaden foot was evident by paceman Hasan Ali’s dismissal of Faf du Plessis, JP Duminy and Wayne Parnell.

In fact the South African approach to batting was so tense that it must have reminded Pakistan of their own approach against India. In a format of the sport which calls for fearless batting, South Africa did themselves in by their fear of chasing and later by their approach to spin and pace bowling alike.

It took Kagisa Rabada (26 off 23 balls), the number nine batsman, to show a refreshingly relaxed approach. No wonder he and top scorer David Miller (75 n.o. from 104 balls) added 48 runs at nearly 8 runs an over at the death. The final total of 219 gave their bowlers some wriggle room.

Pakistan, during the chase, were in trouble and might have even lost the match if rain had not intervened. But they were also apt to play smartly. Fakhar Zaman took his chances, got knocked on the helmet twice by bouncers, but made a quickfire 31 off 23 balls.

Pakistan at 93 for three could have been in trouble. But the experienced Shoaib Mallik, realising that rains were imminent rattled up quick runs and coaxed Babar Azam too to play some positive strokes to keep the team ahead of the Duckworth Lewis par score. A score of 119 for three put them 19 runs ahead when rains halted play.

South Africa will rue having batted first for they ended up gifting the match to Pakistan. The latter now have a toe-hold into making it to the next stage of the event and they surely won’t be the ones to let go of it.

Updated Date: Jun 08, 2017 13:07 PM

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