Selectors need to look for batsmen who can score under pressure or proteas are likely to keep on ‘choking’

2011-03-30 00:00

EVERY South African cricket supporter was hoping that the Proteas’ performance in the quarter-final match against New Zealand would bury the dreaded “c” word once and for all. After South Africa’s shock defeat on Friday, which saw the Protea batsmen looking like rabbits in the headlights, the “choker” term has been resurrected by fans full of frustration.

According to Proteas coach Corrie van Zyl, the pressure of the choker tag was what caused our cricketers to lose their composure when it counted. Van Zyl puts it down to the fact that South Africa’s supporters constantly remind the team of their poor knockout record. He says it simply adds to the pressure they are under and has appealed to the nation to stick with their team.

Spare a thought for South Africa’s loyal supporters, Corrie, who are disillusioned by the Proteas time and time again when it comes to the business end of important tournaments. Faithful South African fans, like the team they support, bear bruises from “taking it on the chin” once too often.

We could skirt around the issue but you have to admit that for a talented squad of cricketers our BMT is abysmal. So who do we blame?

South Africa have no shortage of talented cricketers. Their relatively smooth path to the quarter-finals of the World Cup and the fact that they are ranked in the ICC’s top four proves that they know how to win. Yet somehow they manage to falter when they’re favourites.

Perhaps we need to look at the composition of the team. The Protea bowlers have worked brilliantly as a unit. Graham Smith had seven bowlers to call on and he used them well. It was an impressive bowling performance that restricted New Zealand to 221 in Mirpur, but the run chase that followed was woeful.

Van Zyl has dismissed suggestions that the makeup of his squad for the World Cup was wrong and feels that his team proved themselves throughout the tournament. South Africa acquitted themselves well in the group stages, but ultimately the proof is in the pudding or in this case the Cup and South Africa ended nowhere near it.

When it comes to big pressure situations we simply don’t have the right combination of experience and grit in our batting line-up.

It’s common knowledge among cricketers that the most significant pressure in ODIs is on batsmen down the order and it’s especially true on the subcontinent. Yet the bulk of our middle order is made up of top order franchise batsmen. Faf du Plessis is the only middle order regular and the most inexperienced and it was he who was expected to win the game for South Africa in just his ninth ODI. Successful teams who win prestigious tournaments have accomplished batsmen in match-winning middle order positions.

National selectors scout around the franchises and invariably select the leading run scorers for Protea honours. In my opinion the stats book should serve merely as a guide for selection. It’s players who have a combination of ability, mettle and determination that are key to a team’s success in tight situations.

The South African selectors need to find capable batsmen at franchise level who have the backbone to win games under pressure. We need gutsy fighters like Mark Boucher who are able to work the ball into gaps and who believe they can see their side home.


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