You must be choking

27 Mar
Proteas Forever

Proteas Forever

It’s hard being me. I support Arsenal football club and South African cricket. Maybe it’s masochism, maybe I have some strange attraction to extremely talented emotional cripples. My depression over our recent ICC World Cup exit to vastly inferior opposition (yet again) has lifted long enough for me to vent a little, so here it is.

I’ve never thought that the label of ‘chokers’ was quite fair when applied to our cricketers. Certainly, the first accusation of choking came after we conspired to draw (and thus lose on a technicality) in the semi-final against Australia, but it was only Allan Donald who choked after Klusener had rescued an almost-lost cause. I used to be happier with complacent or arrogant or immature as a general description of our historical problem. I now realise that all of those adjectives are true, but ‘choker’ most of all. The trouble is that the cricketers themselves still keep persisting in denial about it. Apparently they spent all the press interviews in this WC being edgy or aggressive when the question was raised — which ironically is a great symptom of chokiness.

A choker in golf is someone who gets the shakes and misses a three-foot putt for the tournament. In cricket, it’s more systemic fear, panic, lack of confidence and poor decision-making. Getting upset about the question in press conferences shows that the fear and lack of steel is there in abundance. The sooner we’re able to say, ‘Yes, we’re chokers; won’t it be embarrassing if you’re beaten by chokers’ the better.

To add to the catalogue of chokes from earlier World Cups, we collapsed under the littlest pressure from hapless England, and we scored a last-minute victory over India — who have their own choking problems at the moment. That victory was allegedly evidence that South Africa was over their jitters, but it wasn’t. Rigid and fear-driven captaincy and unnecessarily risky running were the highlights of the contribution from our senior players. Then Johan Botha took risks to get us back in a position where sensible cricket would have sufficed and immediately took a rush-of-blood risk and got out. We only won because one of our bowlers got lucky with the bat — a feat that he would probably not replicate more than once in every twenty attempts. In other words, we did plenty of choking, but were out-choked by India.

When pressure finally was applied in the knock-out stages, we managed to get into a winning position, where calm cricket would have got us home easily, but Kallis went aerial for no reason whatsoever and was caught (shades of the loss that we engineered against the West Indies a few tournaments ago when we chased a low target by handing out catching practice). Then Duminy played half a sleepy cross-bat shot in homage to every number 11 batsman in the world and got bowled. Then someone who actively encourages people to call him ‘Faf’ called for a suicidal run for no reason and dismissed Our Last Hope TM.

The point is, Dear Proteas Cricket, you are chokers. You work hard enough to raise hopes and then you freak out and dash them in a flurry of immature, brain-freeze panic. The sooner you leave denial behind, the sooner you can battle the choker tag head on, and the sooner you can stop being the most depressing sporting franchise in history. Here’s to another four more years to wait for potential to be fulfilled. Let’s hope we still have the potential to fulfil by then.

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