Proteas Chokers or Unlucky in Cricket….by Pratish Doshi

With two overs left, South Africa were on 196 for eight; in other words, they needed 18 runs off 12 balls. At the crease were Mark Boucher on five and Klusener on 15.

How is it possible that the Proteas have never won a single knockout match at a World Cup? Are our cricketers unable to think on their feet? Is it fair to call them ‘chokers’? What can be done to win at last? – See more at: http://www.senwes.co.za/artikels/view/why-the-proteas-choke-at-the-cricket-world-cup#sthash.zXI8gtQP.dpuf

By Pratish Doshi

McGrath bowled the first ball of the penultimate over to Boucher, who couldn’t score a run. Off the second ball of the over the South African wicketkeeper was bowled, his middle stump cartwheeling out of the ground as he gave himself room to hit through the off-side, his dismissal bringing Elworthy to the wicket. Elworthy scored a single to get off the mark but was run out off the fourth ball of the over as he attempted a foolish second run to get the infinitely more dangerous Klusener back on strike, after the latter had hammered the ball to Paul Reiffel at long-on.

The run-out decision was tight because, despite the excellence of Reiffel’s throw, there was uncertainty about whether McGrath hadn’t perhaps dislodged the bails with his hand. In the commentary box, Bill Lawry was certain – sort of: ‘He’s gone, that’s out, I’m sure he hasn’t made it, has he?’ As the television producer cut between various camera angles searching for the perfect view, the third umpire’s decision took an eternity. Eventually Elworthy was declared run out and Donald came in to bat at number 11.

With eight balls remaining, South Africa were now well behind. They’d lost two wickets in four balls and needed 16 runs. Klusener smote McGrath’s fifth ball, a misdirected yorker fuller than the bowler had presumably intended, down Reiffel’s throat at long-on. Nicknamed ‘Pistol’ by his mates, Reiffel was considered to possess the safest pair of Australian hands, but in the stress of the match’s concluding act, he didn’t quite get them up in time. The ball split through his fingers and bobbled over the boundary ropes for a six – 10 runs off seven deliveries suddenly seemed within reach. Off the last ball of McGrath’s spell, Klusener smartly kept himself on strike with a single to Ponting on the mid-wicket fence.

Going into the last over of the match, South Africa needed nine to win. The Australians needed one wicket. The final over was to be bowled by Damien Fleming. His speciality: the yorker.

Instructed by Waugh to bowl fast and straight, he bowled his first two balls round the wicket to Klusener. Both were hit murderously by Klusener for four, the first between point and cover, the second slicing through wide long-off. The second boundary brought the scores level, yet, strangely in retrospect, neither batsman thought to have a discussion in the middle, to possibly slow the match down and make the Australians sweat more than they already were.

Indeed, it was moot as to who was the more jittery side, because off the third ball of Fleming’s over Klusener and Donald almost conspired to run themselves out. Only Darren Lehmann’s apprehension at mid-on prevented what seemed like a certain run-out after the two South African batsmen scrambled – then thought better of it – for the winning run off a mis-hit Klusener pull to mid-on. So caught up in their respective bubbles were Klusener and Donald that not even at this stage in the innings – the South Africans had three deliveries left for the winning run, remember – did they think to have a mid-pitch parley.

Clearly having adjusted his line (and now coming over the wicket after his first two balls were bowled from round), Fleming bowled what turned out to be the last ball of the match. Klusener scuffed a yorker and ran madly for a single; he didn’t seem to realise that Donald was paralysed, so discombobulated that he dropped his bat. As Klusener was charging down the track, Mark Waugh intercepted; he threw the ball to Fleming who rolled it underarm down the wicket to Gilchrist at the strikers’ end. Afterwards, Steve Waugh attributed the piece of quick thinking to a ten-pin bowling evening the Australians had enjoyed the week before.

Donald was run out by half a pitch’s length. Much of South Africa was in shock as Klusener was escorted off the field by a burly policeman. There appeared to be no eye contact or acknowledgement between the two South Africans in the slightest. ‘We ran around like prison escapees,’ writes Waugh in his autobiography, ‘not knowing who to grab, totally overcome with excitement.’

Thirteen years after the event, Klusener is more sober. ‘It was nice to be part of a World Cup,’ he says. ‘If we hadn’t let ourselves down early in the tournament we wouldn’t have found ourselves in that position. I’ve got no regrets as to the way it happened. Look, Allan didn’t have glue in his gloves. If the ball goes back past the stumps you have to turn around – could’ve, should’ve, would’ve – nobody knows. Allan just shouldn’t have been in that position in the first place if the batsmen in the side had been doing their jobs properly.’

Gibbs didn’t see any of it. He was on the physio’s table ‘talking shit to Nicky [Boje, the 12th man]’. He can’t remember exactly, but estimates that from about 15 overs out he couldn’t watch. Indeed, he’s never been able to. ‘I never saw one ball of it,’ he tells me. ‘It was on a knife edge, it could go either way. It was that kind of topsy-turvy game. I just didn’t have the stomach for it. I just can’t handle these big games. It was exactly the same with the 438 game. It gets so bad that I block out my ears, I cover them with my hands, so I can’t hear the roar of the crowd and I can’t work out what’s going on. I’ve never been able to stomach those close ones. That’s the way I am.’

With hindsight it is difficult not to see Klusener and Donald’s lack of communication during that last over as significant. After he pulverised Fleming’s second ball to the boundary, Klusener rested his bat on his leg and adjusted his helmet with both hands, a deeply martial gesture, as Kluseneresque in its way as was Kepler Wessels’s preoccupied walk to the square-leg umpire to calm his nerves or Clive Rice’s rolling up of his unravelled shirt sleeves as he walked back to his bowling mark. As Waugh was marshalling his fielders, bringing in his field to prevent the single that would have won South Africa the game, Klusener raised the four fingers of his right hand to the umpire – an acknowledgement of how many balls were left in the over. The two batsmen had spoken when Donald walked to the wicket (Donald smiling meekly at umpire David Shepherd as he passed) and in the break between the 49th and 50th over. But they failed to have that calming, necessary chat when it was most needed. Given Waugh’s fiddling, there was surely time to do so.

Watching a repeat of the game, it is obvious that Klusener was so locked into the idea of winning the match for South Africa that he was unable to step out of himself. This was his moment, his history and – to coin a phrase from the Klusener lexicon – his drug hitting home. Such was his desire to lead South Africa deeper into the tournament – after all, he had done it successfully so often before – that down the pitch Donald was, for all intents and purposes, invisible, a bit player in Klusener’s drama in which he was the hero rather than a teammate or colleague.

From the moment he walked to the crease, Donald looked petrified. His brief innings was coloured by desperation from the very beginning. He was lucky to survive being run out by Lehmann off ball three of Fleming’s over – it is remarkable to consider how physically close Lehmann was to the stumps when he missed at Donald’s end. It was this, Donald’s paralysis and Klusener’s imperious, lost-in-a-bubble remove, which conspired to prevent South Africa from winning the game. Add to this the fact that run-outs were in the air (Elworthy was run out in the previous over), and that Fleming had intelligently changed his angle of attack and was bowling across Klusener, cramping him for room as he bowled wicket to wicket.

Paradoxically, South Africa also suffered from the scores being tied at this point, which forced Waugh to slide in his field. Had South Africa needed a couple of runs, or even four, Waugh might have kept his field back until later in the over, a situation that would have given Klusener the room he needed to be destructive. From the third ball onwards, the match suddenly shrank dramatically and Klusener’s size and status shrank with it. With Klusener becoming metaphorically ‘smaller’, so South Africa’s response seemed to shrink proportionately to the constrictions of the match. The action could have been adequately represented by a single television camera, because everything of importance was taking place within the confines of a single frame.

History was welling up around the edges of the semi-final too. There was South Africa’s five-wicket defeat at Headingley to consider, as well as Woolmer’s possibly indiscreet comments earlier in the tournament that South Africa’s ‘final’ was likely to be their semi-final. The previous World Cups might also have been in the back of the players’ minds, both of which South Africa had lost as the chasing side.

As for the Australians, some of them had been here before. In the eighth game of the protracted ODI series at the end of the 1993/94 tour of South Africa, the series was poised 4-3 in the home team’s favour going into the final game in Bloemfontein. With an over left, South Africa needed six to win as they attempted to chase Australia’s 203. The batsmen were Tim Shaw, the big left-arm spinner from Eastern Province, and Dave Richardson. By a strange quirk of coincidence, the bowler was Fleming, who was just starting out in his international career. But the eerie coincidences don’t end there.

A Brian McMillan run-out had brought Shaw to the wicket, and Richardson would be run out during the course of the over; South Africa would conspire to be stranded on 202 for eight, one run short, to lose the match by two wickets and so draw the series 4-4. The South African team, with Andrew Hudson, Wessels, Adrian Kuiper, McMillan, Eric Simons, Richardson and Shaw, was a work in progress that ultimately segued into something very different in the coming seasons, while the Australians would retain the core of the side that had played in Bloemfontein for the 1999 World Cup. Allan Border, Ian Healy and David Boon were jettisoned, but both Waughs, McGrath, Warne, Fleming and Reiffel remained.

The now infamous tied World Cup match evoked very different reactions from South Africans back home. Some were so crushed they took to their beds. Others howled and raged. Others vowed never to watch another South African run chase ever again. In hindsight, we can see this national disappointment as part of an emerging narrative framed by comparative sporting innocence. In a pre-match-fixing age, fans were under the impression that victory in international tournaments was theirs by right.

The national rugby team had won a World Cup by this stage and South African cricket fans, perhaps with the Test series victory over Australia in the 1969/70 home series lingering in the back of their minds, complacently expected success, an expression maybe of local arrogance and comparative lack of exposure to international sport because of the sports boycott. It took matches such as this to disabuse them.

Like 9/11 and Kennedy’s assassination, for South Africans the Edgbaston semi-final was one of those ‘Where were you?’ moments. Most people I know remember clearly where they were, who they were with and how they responded to Klusener and Donald’s mistake. As such, it allowed everyone watching to plug into our national story, if only fleetingly. In several respects, the match transcended the confines of an international sporting event and became meaningful in other ways, opening up notions of collective memory and a shared post-democratic consensus.

There was a clear psychological element to the loss, as Australia developed into a kind of bogey side. There were cultural and sociological elements as well – South Africa lost to a team that many locals admired, even envied, Australia being the at-peace-with-itself nation that South Africa might one day become. But most significantly, there was a political dimension to the Edgbaston semi-final. The match, after all, was about the politics of national sporting disaster – something that was to develop into a well-grooved theme, as fans and ordinary folk came to suspect that in the tight moments the Proteas would always fail. For a society historically reluctant to talk across racial and class lines, it was a salutary lesson in the innate worth of communication. Such was the trauma that, according to several sources, there was no post-match debriefing, and, therefore, no knowledge transfer or lessons learnt.

Woolmer and Cronjé were too shattered to confront their disappointment. Eric Simons, who coached the Proteas in the next World Cup, might have welcomed such lessons. Although he stressed throughout the 2003 campaign that the players needed to be masters of their own destinies, to the outsider there was seemingly an undercurrent of helplessness running throughout the campaign. It looked as though the Proteas and management were becoming more and more overwhelmed as the 2003 tournament progressed. ‘I’ve always sensed in general that South African sporting teams don’t talk enough, especially with that kind of macho culture that’s so prevalent in our sport,’ says Clinton Gahwiler, the psychologist brought in to help the 2003 World Cup team. ‘And as a general rule I think it probably applies to most of our teams.’

The Edgbaston story was also one about the limitations of individual heroism in the context of a team sport. Klusener had been a hero for so long already in the 1999 World Cup that there was no reason for him to believe that the fairy tale wouldn’t continue. It must have seemed as though he was blessed – bulletproof, if you like – because time and again he was able to turn the ship around and stop it from plunging off the edge of the known world. With Australia clinging on for dear life in the semi-final, he must have figured he’d done it again.

But Klusener and South Africa were out of luck at a time when luck wasn’t even necessary. What they needed when the scores were equal was clear-headedness and the presence of mind to coolly look at where they were and what had to be done. But clear-headedness eluded them and as a result they went home. All except Klusener, that is. Crookes remembers going down to breakfast the following morning and seeing Klusener in the hotel restaurant. He asked him what his plans were. Klusener replied that he was staying on as he needed to be present to collect his man-of-the-tournament award.

Everyone came to terms with the loss differently. Cape Town cricket coach and historian John Young remembers seeing Woolmer back in the wintry Cape shortly after the match. ‘We were at the indoor nets in Pinelands a couple of days afterwards, sort of expecting Bob but not sure exactly when he was going to make it back, and going about our business anyway,’ he recalls. ‘There were a whole lot of kids there and parents, and I remember distinctly that I was on my knees doing something and I saw Bob walk into the indoor centre and announce before this collection of Saturday-morning parents: “Anyone got a run for me, just one run?” The parents, of course, just roared with laughter. That was him making fun of himself, and breaking the ice, but Bob was very much that kind of guy. An enthusiast – someone who was always learning. Someone who could tell an eight-year-old that he had taught him something.’

South Africa’s failure to reach the 1999 final was qualitatively different from the previous two World Cup losses, evidenced by the national temperature after each defeat. The absurdity of the rain rule in 1992 engendered something akin to commiseration. The youth and inexperience of those selected to play in the quarter-final in 1996 inspired magnanimous forgiveness, possibly tempered slightly by Donald’s omission from the quarter-final side and what was perceived as too much gambling in selection. Edgbaston, however, was completely different: it was a shockingly heartbreaking end to a tournament that was theirs for the taking. Many consider the 1999 squad the best to have ever represented South Africa, and they’re probably right. Through a combination of human error, hubris and fear, they couldn’t make that talent count. It was a black day in Birmingham and a red one in South Africa as the nation struggled to come to terms with its disbelief and frustration. – See more at: http://www.senwes.co.za/artikels/view/why-the-proteas-choke-at-the-cricket-world-cup#sthash.zXI8gtQP.dpuf

Upload By Pratish Doshi

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About Pratish Doshi

Pratish Doshi is a health Care Professional with interest in Music and sports. Likes to play Piano and guitar , and loves to explore different genre of music
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