Tuesday, March 24, 2015

South Africa - Chokers no more

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This was a curious South African team. Confidence misplaced, more words than deeds. Taking themselves too seriously. For a casual observer they gave a sense of someone running in the same place and feeling mighty pleased with themselves.

As a player, AB DeVillers is all action. His performances speak for himself. As a captain he led a South African team who were seduced by themselves. Previous South African teams seduced us, this one was self seduced and we watched in amusement their skipper speak tall, bold words even as they lost almost all their matches to decent teams.

Except Sri Lanka, South Africa failed to beat any serious team.

And yet, they believed they could win the cup. This is quite different from traditional South African teams who others believed in, spoke less, did more but ultimately did not have the self belief.

Before their game with India, in the group stages, South Africa were the favorites. They lost. Before their game with Pakistan, in the group stages, South Africa were the favorites. They lost. Before their semi final game with New Zealand, South Africa were the favorites. They lost.

It took sustained ineptitude to finally get rid of the chokers tag. Nobody can say South Africa choked. This time they were simply not good enough.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Why do we let South Africa seduce us?

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I remember the days when South Africa were banned from international cricket. There was a lot of intrigue around them. I had read about people like Clive Rice, about Graham Pollock; that he had a batting average of almost 61... I had read about the exploits of Barry Richards, Mike Procter who bowled off the wrong foot; if I remember my reading correctly... knew a bit about Eddie Barlow, Ali Bacher....

I knew that without South Africa international cricket was missing a formidable team.

I watched with keen interest when India welcomed South Africa back to the international fold and I remember watching on TV Alan Donald charging in and bowling fast in India in a one day game. He was bowling faster than Malcom Marashall I had thought. Later when India became the first team to tour South Africa for a full Test series, I remember Pravin Amre scoring a dour century on debut.

Then came the 1992 world cup. Within a year of South Africa returning back to the international game, they were getting a chance to play the World Cup. Every one was curious as to how would they compare and compete with other international team. Having followed India's games with them, they clearly seemed a stronger side to me.

A lot of buzz around the 1992 world cup was due to South Africa's presence. It seemed like they had the sympathy vote. For what .... I don't know but it seemed to me that people wanted them to do well.

And then Johnty Rhodes flew out Inzamam Ul-Haq....

And the world was seduced.

South Africa brought in a very different brand of cricket to the World Cup. They fielded like no other team had fielded before, they seemed better coached and their cricket seemed rational and unemotional. They didn't smile like the West Indians did, they didn't have nearly as much the passion like the Pakistanis did, they seemed a bit like the Australians, scowling all the time and taking themselves too seriously but more mechanical. They didn't seem to have India's flair or guile. They were as good as any other team and different too.

But ever since that 1992 World Cup they have seduced cricket fans like no other team has.

Since their re-entry they have started every world cup being considered as legitimate favorites. And yet after 26 years of World Cup history behind them, they have yet to win a knockout game in the World Cup. Their exits are a combination of bad luck, foolishness, panic, screwed up rain rules, math errors, tactical blunders and stage fright.

In 1992 silly rain rule left them needing to get 22 runs off one ball, when before the rain they had 18 balls to get them.

In 1996 they came up with a brain dead idea of dropping Alan Donald for the quarter finals and Brian Lara made them pay.

In 1999 they picked Alan Donald for their semifinal against Australia but he had a brain freeze of his own which resulted in his getting run out, the game ending as a tie and Australia progressing on the basis of a previous Super Six match win.

In 2003 they forgot that D/L targets list scores needed to equal and that teams have to score one more than the D/L score listed to win a game. As the rain came down Boucher meekly tapped the last ball before the rain meekly to mid wicket which tied the game when they needed to win it.

In 2007, they were too jittery in the semi finals and the match was effectively over in 10 overs with South Africa 27-5

In 2011 they collapsed chasing a smallish target against another fellow chokers, New Zealand who before that game hadn't won any knock-out game themselves.

This is their 7th attempt. But isn't 6 flops good enough to ask the question why do we let South Africa seduce us every 4 years?

Why for instance before their game against Pakistan, were South Africa considered favorites and no one was giving Pakistan any chance. What is it about South Africa's weakness we are willing to ignore and what is it about Pakistan's strengths which they have demonstrated in almost every world cup barring 2007; that we are unwilling to acknowledge.