1992: South Africa vs England (ODI) Semi-finals – loss by 19 runs
1996: South Africa vs West Indies (ODI) Quarter-finals – loss by 19 runs (Brian Lara’s one man show to help his side go to semi-finals)
1999: South Africa vs Australia (ODI) Semi-final – match tied but Australia advanced to finals
2007: South Africa vs Australia (ODI) Semi-final – loss by 7 wickets
2011: South Africa vs New Zealand (ODI) Quarter-final – loss by 49 runs
2015: (Most controversial) South Africa vs New Zealand (ODI) Semi-final – loss by 4 wickets (I’m still hurt from this loss almost two years on)
2016: South Africa vs West Indies (T20) Group stages – loss by 3 wickets
Ahh, that love story. That one love story that just never ends well for the protagonist. A twist in the fairy-tale. Like a volta in a poem. Always letting the antagonist get its way and leaving the main character heartbroken. The love story, in this case, is any ICC event where the Proteas have come agonisingly close to reaching the final; the protagonist is the Proteas; and the antagonist is the building pressure in knockout games.
If you look closely at these summarised results above, you will notice that majority of the matches lost were either in quarter-finals or in semi-finals; the most recent, and most controversial, being the Cricket World Cup in 2015. If there was one thing I noticed while looking for these results, is that majority of these group stage matches were fairly simple for the Proteas. Looking through the results of group stages in the various tournaments, with exception of two to three teams, most teams South Africa played against were, with all due respect, not ones that measured up to the standard of play and test of temperament and skill that Australia, England or India teams possess in their matches.
It was more or less quite simple for the Proteas to get to the Super Sixes or semi-finals due to them playing teams like Kenya, Zimbabwe, West Indies, or even the Netherlands in the beginning. No wonder it’s a slight challenge when they face Australia or New Zealand in a do-or-die game and feel the immense amount of pressure. They know: one mistake, and you’re out and called “chokers” until the next ICC event. So should we really blame the Proteas here? If they are used to playing near minnow teams in group stages, with all due respect to them, would it be natural for them to have a slight sense of complacency going into knockout rounds? Is that when the Proteas crack? Truth be told though, the Proteas should be able to play against any team they face, especially in an ICC event.
It’s almost similar to an unloving relationship that the Proteas have placed us fans in. Showing promise of finally getting that glistening piece of silverware to add to the cupboard that still holds the trophy from the ICC Champions Trophy in 1998 by doing so well in bilateral series against different countries in a season. However every time a test of commitment comes around, our beloved protagonist “chokes” under pressure. Like a lover promising to take you to your favourite restaurant for your anniversary every year, but never following through with that plan when the date actually comes around. Every date beforehand is perfect, and nothing goes wrong. It is only when the big day arrives of your anniversary when everything goes awry.
As a fan of the protagonist here, I would like for them to be that one protagonist that seizes the day like in the romantic comedies, and get what exactly the fans want: the Champions Trophy winners title, and eventually become Cricket World Cup winners in 2019. Everyone wants this so badly, so badly that AB de Villiers himself has opted out of a few test series this year, and could probably miss some matches in any given format against teams next year. He is showing a near unhealthy, but needed dedication to making sure he and his team is ready for the World Cup in 2019. This love-hate affair with pressure situations in knockout games must come to an end, once and for all. Everyone knows they can do it, but they must just prove it. You can be number one in rankings, but how your match temperament is in pressure situations, like a World Cup, is where the real test lies.