Lack of proper preparation was Proteas’ biggest problem

2009-09-30 00:00

IT’S tough not to be drawn into the media pounding of the beleaguered Proteas. Their woeful performance in the early rounds of the ICC Champions Trophy has certainly provided an arsenal of ammunition to anyone wanting to have a go at them and they deserve it.

Even the choker tag has resurfaced, although it’s hardly appropriate in this context. The Proteas’ premature exit with the tournament barely a week old, was hardly a case of stumbling at the last hurdle.

So, like defeated captain Graeme Smith, we scratch our heads and look for positives and some perspective.

On the back of yet another ICC tournament failure, forgetting that South Africa are firmly placed at the top of the world rankings in Test cricket and indeed one-day cricket, is forgivable. To achieve this position they have had to perform consistently well, yet when it comes to ICC tournaments it’s consistency and big match temperament (BMT) that continue to elude them.

Their line-up is star-studded: it’s packed with match-winners in all departments and on the face of it, appears to have no obvious weaknesses. A number of the Proteas batsmen and bowlers are ranked in the top 10 in world cricket and the team is led by a captain who is a veritable giant in the game. Smith has an exemplary record of performing well under pressure, a trait his team-mates would do well to emulate.

The Proteas not only looked the part on paper, but sporting their all-new, skin-tight Reebok kit, they looked the real deal in the flesh. Kallis and Smith, who’ve taken so much flack in the past regarding their weight, have slimmed down considerably over the winter.

Leading up to the tournament the Proteas were as positive as we expect them to be — they believed it was their time to win a tournament and for the South African public it was certainly about time. Unfortunately, as was the case in the 2003 World Cup, the Proteas fans will now be supporting a tournament without their team in the mix and they are understandably gutted.

Mickey Arthur and his management felt their two-week training camp in Potchefstroom was adequate preparation: this despite the fact that most other nations were involved in ODIs leading up to the competition. I’m not convinced that an intensive two-week preparation leading up to a prestigious tournament is nearly enough training or that it should ever take the place of competitive match practice.

The Proteas bowlers conceded 856 runs in just three matches, which shows that as a unit they did not respond well under pressure. Captain Smith had little chance with his field placing when short-pitched deliveries and full tosses were the order of the day.

There have been calls for South Africa to use a pinch hitter, which I think is totally unnecessary. Smith, with his career best 141, showed just how his team should have applied themselves. In his innings, he barely hit a ball in the air, but took his time placing the ball into gaps and waiting patiently for the poor deliveries. The fact that so many of the Proteas batsmen were out going for big shots, showed that the pressure got to them.

The Proteas were comprehensively outplayed in the Champions Trophy. If they’re ever to get their hands on the elusive trophy, it’s vital that they take a leaf out of their captain’s book on how to perform under pressure. It’s also essential that next time round they are better prepared — their loyal supporters deserve nothing less.

• Neil Johnson is a former Natal, WP and Zimbabwe all-rounder who lives and coaches in Pietermaritzburg.

when it comes to icc tournaments it’s consistency and big match temperament that continue to elude them [the proteas].

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