There are simple reasons to explain the latest Proteas failure

2012-10-06 00:00

WINNING, like losing, is a habit. If you are imbued in a culture of winning, it is easier to draw on that reserve when the going gets tough.

The revered philospher Aristotle had a simple phrase: “Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit”.

It is easy in theory, but difficult in practicality. It is a practicality that our beloved Proteas have failed to grasp yet again on the international stage.

A professional player would say it is easy to criticise from the comfort of press boxes and lounges, but the reality is that some of us have never seen the Proteas get past a knockout stage in our lifetime except for the 1998 ICC Champions Trophy, which they won in foreign conditions in a spicy Bangladesh.

In retrospect, it was a much easier tournament to win as one only had to play three matches to clinch the trophy. They did play some pretty decent cricket and the world was alerted to Jacques Kallis’s rising stock as an all-rounder.

As later editions proved, that was all but a fluke and not at any stage have South Africa come close to winning. What is it that South African rugby is doing right that cricket just cannot seem to master?

I’m of the school of thought that winning tournaments is much like mathematics, a subject I battled with in a short school life. The more you practice that convolution of digits and unknowns, the better you will get at it. It is even better when you are naturally gifted in the subject.

The same applies to cricket and other sporting codes. South African cricketers are a talented lot and have proved time and time again that they can topple the best home and away.

Why were they able to beat England at home for the second consecutive time? It is because they had done so before, four years earlier and they knew what it took to win in England. They took on a better England side, yet is was the well of talent, skill and more importantly, belief, which saw them through the tough moments. The belief of knowing that they have won in England before and when the pressure is on, their guts become more of a compound of aluminium and titanium than the flesh we have below our stomachs.

One might argue the above point in reference to the series win against Australia later that year, but that was a Rubicon that needed to be crossed. Through hard work and skill, it was crossed with some ease and it would not come as much of a surprise if a series win against an energetic but rebuilding Australian side is repeated.

Why can’t a South African side win an ICC tournament? It is simply because South African junior teams have not taught themselves how to win their respective tournaments. It is not difficult to find that youth sides who win their tournaments, whether their ages are queried or not, are able to find the strength or bond the glue together when they find themselves in that same position.

All teams who have won the Under 19 Cricket World Cup, with the exception of the West Indies, have at some stage or another, won an ICC trophy. Those sides contain players who irrespective of their roles then, were part of those teams. It is something that permeates into our franchises representing the country at the Champions League Twenty20; there are players in those sides who have won trophies and know how to deal with pressure.

Besides the 1995 Rugby World Cup, which was won by a bunch of dedicated and backs-to-the-wall semi-professionals, the 2007 side was built on the back of players who at some stage of their age group career, had won their World Championship. It is not to say that Wiaan Liebenberg, William Small-Smith and company could pull off the feat in 2019, but they have tasted championship blood and seeking it out when needed would not be difficult.

Isn’t that simple enough?

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