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Why do South Africa fail at major tournaments
The world’s number one ranked side in one day internationals. The team that has had arguably the best batsman of the last 15 years. A side littered with brilliant bowlers and fantastic fielders. Yet in the last 19 years, South Africa have not even reached the final of an ICC tournament, let alone win it and justify their favourites tag. Since the Wills International Cup in 1998, South Africa have struggled to perform on the biggest stage and when the pressure is on, an inevitable collapse occurs that is inexplicable. A brilliant side in bilateral tournaments who have won wherever they have been, what goes wrong when the spotlight is on?
In all of sport, when teams play against the number one side in the world, their level of play indelibly increases. The players of the opposition team feel that this is their chance to get recognition from the public if they deliver. The motivation could not be higher when playing against South Africa. Add to this the atmosphere of a knockout tournament, you are given a stage where a great performance is life changing. For all of the critics against South Africa, you cannot deny that they have been victim in the past to some spectacular performances. Think back to Jacob Oram in the 2011 World Cup in India, Grant Elliot in the 2015 World Cup or Joe Root in the T20 World Cup last year. The feared firepower of the South Africans were simply no match in front of these individual performances that took away the game. While it may seem easy to just say that South Africa were powerless against these individuals, sometimes these stories are just meant to be. Still, they can’t be that unlucky all the time right?
In cricketing folklore, one match for fans of South Africa still reverberates in their minds. The thrilling tie against Australia in the 1999 World Cup semi-final at Edgbaston meant that Australia went through to the final because of their greater record in the group stages. Despite Shane Warne’s champion performance, his opposition will have felt they threw the game away due to mix up leading to a run out of Allan Donald. This unfortunate incident has carried on in future generations and poor decision making has continued. Today’s match was a perfect example of that. Three horrifying run outs made them capitulate, including the run out of AB De Villiers. They made India’s fielding seem as if their own great, Jonty Rhodes, was not a special fielder. This can be put down to the pressure of a knockout game, but that is the same for both sides. While every game is in a sense its own universe, the ghosts of the past still seem to be revolving around the player’s minds. They have never seen success on the biggest stage and until that happens, future stars of South African cricket may experience the same thing. Is there anything they can do about this?
Over the last few years, one team has improved in ODI cricket more than any other. The English debacle of 2015, where they failed to get past the group stage of the World Cup, left them under a huge cloud. Despite all of the criticism, they had the courage to take tough decisions. Get a new coach, giving their captain Eoin Morgan complete control of how he wants his team to play, these have been just some of the things that they have done so well over the last two years. A World Cup final in 2016, and in all likelihood, another final in the Champions Trophy next week just underlines their success and ability. Creating a new environment which allows players to express themselves is critical to winning and South Africa must do this for their players. Tough decisions will have to be made, maybe even reliving the stress of captaincy from De Villiers. If new faces are brought in, they have no baggage of painful experiences and can play free. Consistently giving them a chance will bring dividends and hopefully, the World Cup trophy in two years time. They must follow other teams’ lead in this regard or face the prospect of becoming extinct.
Another disappointing failure cannot be hidden, but this may be the wake up call South Africa needed. Change plans, be adventurous and embrace difficult times. All this must be done if they want to have the chance to lift the ultimate prize here in 2019.