Like any other Proteas supporter, I was beside myself with frustration and disbelief on Friday as once again our beloved national team built up our expectations, only to send them crashing down when it mattered most. I lost count over 100, but on Twitter I received endless @s and Direct Messages from my followers who voiced their anger in no uncertain terms. On top of the viewpoints expressed, I found it extremely interesting how some people were attacking me over my views on the ‘choker’ tag. I of course don’t believe any good can come from using the term, and at the same time believe that the term seldom really describes an outcome accurately enough for me.
Far be it for me to say that using the ‘choker’ tag is completely wrong though, as a fan you are entitled to describe things as you see it, but let’s take a good look at the Proteas going forward before any of you start setting fire to your replica apparel and smearing dog excrement on Graeme Smith’s car.
When the Proteas announced their World Cup squad during the Indian ODI Series at home, many (me included) had much to say at the make up of it. The overwhelming bottom line was that we were not going to win the World Cup, we would most probably get knocked out in the quarters, and that our selection and administration was an embarrassment. Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating a bit but we went to this World Cup as outsiders for the first time, and none of us were banging down the doors of the bookies to back our boys.
However from the moment we tore Zimbabwe and Australia a new one in the warm up matches right up to Friday evening when we were 108/2 in the 25 over chasing 222, the Proteas were doing us proud and were the centre of many an enthusiastic conversation where we gushed about the potency of our bowling attack, the quality of our batting top order and how this was going to be our tournament.
Sure we capitulated in all too familiar fashion in the end, but that is sport. None of us have acknowledged just how good New Zealand were on the night, the fact that Amla was dreadfully unlucky to be dismissed in the first over and the unfortunate lack of oxygen to Faf’s brain in running out AB de Villiers. We just play the choke card and then crap on about how useless the team is.
There was no talk of us selecting the wrong team at the start of the match, and there was absolutely no talk of it when we restricted the Kiwis to 221 runs after their 50 overs. There is of course merit in the argument that Boucher and Albie Morkel could have been there. On paper the two could have been the perfect solution to the problems documented in the team, but surely their omission was more than something decided during a drinking game.
Boucher’s limited overs form has been waning for quite some time, and Morkel had failed to really kick on as an international cricketer after his heroics in Australia a few years ago. They could well have been brilliant, but when then failed you just know that Boucher would have been called ‘past it’ and Albie ‘unreliable’ at the very first opportunity. The coaching staff and selection panels work full time on fielding the best players, and before you even think about playing the quota card, name me one ‘player of colour’ who played in the World Cup that was a liability…
So I don’t think we should get hung up on the players, I won’t even go as far as saying it was Graeme either. Sure his tournament average of 26.14 with the bat was well below par, but has anybody given thought to his captaincy? Never in the history of SA cricket have we fielded three spinners, and never have we had an attacking leg spinner at our disposal. I think Graeme did a decent job in making this work in foreign conditions and anybody else chosen for the job would surely have fared far worse.
It is natural for us to pin the blame on someone or something, as you only have to experience a loss to find out that every sports fan can quickly become an expert. But rather than fall into this trap, I believe we should be reflecting on the positives right now. I for one don’t believe there is a better bowling attack in the world right now. The Proteas were the only team to progress from the group stages by dismissing all six of their opponents – that is 60 wickets in 6 games! Put that in your pipe Clive Rice and shove it up your arse. And to think we have great support players that will only get better and continue to contest for a place in the side, not just in limited overs cricket, Test cricket too.
Amla, Kallis and de Villiers are just about certainties in any international team, and though perhaps still lacking in a bit of mental toughness, JP Duminy is an incredible talent that will go on to do great things for his country. The lower middle order is a concern, but I feel this was accentuated in this tournament as the need for spin bowling was of paramount importance. Faf du Plessis showed he has the makings of a decent player, we still have Albie Morkel in the mix who is no doubt more motivated than ever, and then in Dave Miller and Colin Ingram we have strength to develop for any situation.
Every big team in the history of sport has failed in the must win environment, the Proteas just happen to have done it more than others. That sounds like a big fat excuse with bells and whistles, but if you can appreciate what goes into a win and celebrate that, well then you can do the same for a loss and take it on the chin. In 1999 and 2003 it was literally individual error that saw us knocked-out. Donald not running and ginger bollocks Pollock not being able to count does not make us ‘chokers’. In hindsight 2007 saw us implement a dreadfully irrational strategy on the day to try beat heavy favourites Australia, and Friday’s match simply saw us lose to a team who were just better on the day.
So in closing, by all means call the Proteas chokers if you want; shout it, scream it – write a song if you want. But I leave you with this.
If absolutely everyone called them chokers then everyone would believe it, players included. And if you believe you are something then there is a very good chance you always be that thing. Our boys have so much to offer and as we welcome a new era with Graeme stepping aside, they will eventually turn the corner and win a World Cup. But you first have to ask yourself is this is going to be possible if their support base continues to call them chokers and (excuse the pun) rams that down their throats at the first possible chance.
If you think that everything I said above is absolute Kamran Akmal, then you are most welcome to support another team and apply your energies elsewhere. I’m still a proud Proteas supporter, and I bet you will be too the next time we win.