Proteas: Still stuck at Meltdown Central

Quinton de Kock (Getty)
Quinton de Kock (Getty)

London – Some will now even more forcefully brand them permanent patients in the psychiatric department. Or frail care, maybe?

There have been some bad exits by the Proteas from major ICC tournaments. There have been worse ones.

And this may even have been the meekest submission from a high-stakes fixture toward the business end yet, in many respects.

Losing to co-heavyweights India in their final Champions Trophy group game at The Oval here on Sunday wouldn’t have automatically amounted to a disgrace, even given South Africa’s (now tenuous) No 1-ranked ODI status.

But the manner of the capitulation sadly warranted the mantle, and then some.

Once again, in what was effectively a quarter-final at a prestigious gathering of the global cricket clan, the Proteas were their own worst enemies to a costly extent in crashing out, even if due credit must go to the Indians’ superior polish, calmness and professionalism.

In succumbing by eight wickets, this represented their heaviest defeat in that manner to India since as far back as September 1999 – same margin - in a Nairobi tournament.

It said so much about South Africa’s haplessness that there were a full 12 overs left when the massacre was mercifully completed.

Almost as damningly, the one-sided match before a full house – made up by at least 95 percent of vibrant Indian support, it appeared – also short-changed people in the sense of the Proteas criminally failing to bat out their full 50 overs after being asked to go in first; there were five and a half left wasted by them.

Former skipper Shaun Pollock had told Sport24 ahead of the match that he felt South Africa “haven’t fired yet”.

It was a hopeful statement, and one assuming by extension that they might do so, in timely fashion, in the India crunch clash.

He would not have expected them to instead only backfire ugly fumes in the way they did.

The match was effectively lost, arguably, at the point when incumbent captain AB de Villiers, who had fleetingly looked as though he might belatedly spark on a personal level in the event, was involved in, and sacrificed to, the first of three run-outs in the innings.

On a pitch which required some gumption and diligence at the crease, qualities demonstrated as Hashim Amla and Quinton de Kock measuredly amassed 76 runs for the first wicket, such charitable offerings to the opposition were always likely to torpedo the SA hull.

As things increasingly got all helter-skelter and jittery, the Proteas spectacularly destroyed their promising foundations, frittering away their last eight wickets for 51 runs.

Even some kind of steadying to around 230 as a final score might have given their bowlers just a sniff, but 191 was never really going to be enough.

It gave India’s pedigreed top-order batsmen the luxury of being able to take a good look at the bowling, before kicking in rather brutally as evidenced from masterful Virat Kohli and left-hander Shikhar Dhawan.

The big issue for long-suffering Proteas enthusiasts, who take an almost fatalistic glee in bandying this expression about: was this a choke?

I would say the answer is more “no” than “yes”, but that both command validity.

It is the negative because South Africa, this time, did not botch the match at an advanced stage, when tension is high and mettle is most examined; it is then that the choking tag is generally more applicable.

But it is also the “yes” part, to an extent, as the Proteas had shown budding signs, in the first third of their innings, of potentially getting their noses threateningly in front in a contest many pundits had struggled to predict result-wise.

Brain freezes? Oh yes, by the bag-load.

The way they folded in batting terms rather called into scrutiny De Villiers’s suggestion at the post-game press conference that “I didn’t think we lost it with composure … I felt the team was pretty composed”.

There are bound to be significant alternative views on that score.

Especially disappointing about the defeat is that the prize for advancement would have been an inviting semi-final at Edgbaston against Bangladesh, a side South Africa beat 82 percent of the time in ODIs.

The Proteas lead 14-3 bilaterally, and have only lost once to those relative minnows on non-Bangladeshi terrain.

But instead the current group now have to deal, yet again, with the increasingly burdensome emotional fallout of another glaring failure, at the end of the day, in a big event.

It is becoming almost jocular, to neutrals and some cynically-minded South Africans alike.

Since they last won an ICC event – the inaugural equivalent of this tournament in Bangladesh in November 1998 - seven more of these, five World Cups and six ICC World Twenty20 tournaments have passed without the Proteas’ name engraved on the spoils.

That is 18 successive instances of relative misery.

When they did win that “ICC KnockOut” under the late Hansie Cronje 19 years ago, Steve Elworthy was among the victorious team.

Now aged 52, he has long shifted into administrative duties and is managing director of this tournament.

Somehow it says so much about the enduring void for SA cricket …

*Rob Houwing is attending the Champions Trophy for Sport24. Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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