If it’s a World Cup looming you just know that South Africa will be asked about the ‘c’ word.
Graeme Smith, the former Proteas captain, found that out when he and former India captain Rahul Dravid appeared on ESPN’s ‘Contenders’ show.
South Afreica have never reached a World Cup final but have come close – infamously in 1999 when Lance Klusener and Allan Donald were involved in ‘that’ runout at Headingley were a tied match put Australia into the final, which they won. It could be convincingly argued that the pressure got to the batsmen then, but in 2003 a Duckworth-Lewis sheet was read incorrectly and in subsequent World Cups defeat as been to being poor on the day, not choking.
Said Smith on ‘Contenders’, about choking: ‘You can’t get away from it. It’s about fronting up, it’s about dealing with it, it’s about saying, “look we haven’t won a tournament yet, we haven’t won a knockout game yet but it’s about facing up and winning”.
Dravid chipped in: ‘Other than 1999 with Klusener, they had a winning position that South Africa found themselves in, none of the other World Cups they were actually in a winning position. They just didn’t play well, they didn’t play up to their potential and that can happen.’
Things then changed to more current matters. On the strength of the Proteas squad, Smith said, ‘we have match-winners with both bat and ball, more than we’ve ever had in the top five. The key changes we have in this line-up is that we’ve got attacking bowling, the one that can take wickets and we have an attacking spinner which is a big thing for a South African team.’
Added Dravid: ‘One area in this team that differs from the other South African teams is that they don’t have that allrounder at No. 7. They don’t have anyone in their top five or six that can bowl medium-pace.’
On the success of AB de Villiers, Smith said, ‘He’s a very motivated guy, really driven by the energy of what’s going on around him. That’s the way he will lead. I think instinctively, and tactically he’s grown over time.’ Dravid concurred: ‘It’s sensational what he does with the bat. Just his flexibility, being able to bat in the top order, he could come in if you lose a couple of early wickets and still perform a great role and bat you to a position of strength or if you’ve got a good start, finish your games off under pressure as well.’
Smith also weighed in about Hashim Amla as opener. ‘He’s like that guy who you don’t really know is killing you, but he’s killing you. He is going to be another key performer for South Africa. If he’s getting runs, it takes a lot of pressure off everybody else,’ said Smith.
Both had opinions about the pace attack. On Dale Steyn, Dravid said: ‘You want wickets upfront from him. There are not many people who can swing the ball at pace. That’s a priceless asset to have.’ Smith added: ‘He will be extremely motivated in this World Cup. He would want to make a big impact, I think he’s fresh. The key as a captain is that you’re always going to use him at the tough times: Powerplay, death, upfront.’
And on the make-up of the seamers, Smith called them ‘blessed. [Morne] Morkel, [Vernon] Philander, Steyn are three of the best at the moment. Vernon has still got a question mark over his head in ODI, stamina towards the back end is going to be his challenge.’ Dravid however expressed concern with the death bowling. ‘We’ve seen with Steyn and Morkel that at the time of the death overs, they haven’t been able to execute the yorkers in T20s. But those conditions might be different from what they might encounter.’