Former opening batsman and coach Gary Kirsten says the Proteas still need to address the relentless ‘choking’ tag, carried by the team into major competitions.
South Africa have become accustomed to being labelled chokers whenever they crash out on the big stage, with the 52-year-old maintaining an honest approach by the team to this infamous mindset will allow them to move past it at World Cups or international events.
Kirsten was in charge of the team that lost to England in the semi-final of the 2013 Champions Trophy, where the Proteas could manage only 80-8 in a rain-reduced 23-over match.
And, according to him, the players – as so often in the past – allowed the big occasion to get to them which led to sub-par performances. Some players in that team, though, didn’t agree with Kirsten’s take.
‘One or two players did approach me about that afterwards. But I mean, it didn’t take a fool to see what was going on. I’ve always maintained [that], certainly [in] my journey with the one-day team, less so in the Test team … our Test journey was very different to the one-day journey,’ Kirsten said on the ‘Following On Podcast’.
‘Certainly, my two years that I was with the team we were certainly very focused on becoming the No 1 Test team. The team was set up for that.
‘The one-day journey was slightly different. We were bringing in a lot of young players at the time, we were two years away from the World Cup, after the Champions Trophy. One of the things I wanted to focus on in the one-day team was around big events. I wanted us to be real as people and as brutally honest as we could to each other around the history of these big events, and how we could overcome them.’
Over the years the Proteas have often reached the semi-final of a World Cup, in any format, or the Champions Trophy with some great cricket, only to throw it all away when it mattered most. The standout examples of this were the 1999 and 2015 World Cup semi-finals against Australia and New Zealand, respectively.
‘Prior to that [Champions Trophy] semi-final, we spoke into that space,’ Kirsten continued.
‘We were open and direct about the challenges that we got in these big games, to the point where I stood up and said to the team, “Unless we actually acknowledge that we’re actually choking, we’re not going to move forward as a group.” And I was met with … not resistance in a tangible way … but I could see there was resistance, people were scared to go there.’