In 1996 the Proteas were shell-shocked by Brian Lara’s onslaught and three years later, in England, it came to a lack of communication between two men. In 2003 it was a lack of communication between the two men in the middle and the rest of the squad which cost the host nation a place in the second round.
In the Caribbean, there was clearly a problem with the team’s collective mindset before the semi-final against Australia but nobody had the courage to mention it. They were tense and subdued, almost fearful on the evening before the game. There was an elephant in the team room but nobody wanted to acknowledge it, let alone attempt to remove it.
This time, however, there appeared to be no problem with communication between anybody that mattered and the players were as comfortable and relaxed as anyone could expect or hope for on the eve of a knockout match. So what went wrong?
It is ironic how often South African teams have spoken about treating ‘big’ games as though they were ‘normal’ games – “just like any other match” is a phrase we have heard often. It is ironic because other teams seem comfortably acknowledging and accepting that all matches are not equal. Or as George Orwell said about the citizens in his book “1984”, some are “more equal than others.”
South African teams have developed a fear that they may do something silly if they treat a big match differently to any other match. It is as though they are scared of the consequences of admitting that a match situation should be treated differently if there is no second chance on a world stage rather than in a bilateral series.
But at 100-2 chasing 222, perhaps they should have played differently – and done so very deliberately, even ostentatiously. They were just 30 or 40 runs away from taking the game away from New Zealand and they had time to get them in singles. They could even have afforded a few really quiet overs.
By trying so consciously to play their ‘normal game’, however, they lost wickets. Maybe their determination not to change their approach in deference to the importance of the result was what led to the middle order collapse. That does not mean they should have blocked the ball and put themselves under pressure. They are all good enough to play low-risk cricket and take three singles an over.
Back to the psychological drawing board, then.
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