The pressure got to South Africa. If you ask me to sum things up in a word, that’s it. Pressure.
I’ve said it before and I don’t take any delight in repeating it. We went to the World Cup saying that we were mentally strong and that we were prepared for every scenario. Except that we weren’t.
If we were, then what was Mike Horn doing there with the team, joining them at the knockout stages? We shouldn’t have needed him to motivate us, surely? This was a World Cup and to bring him him was surely a questionable decision.
Look, there is no shortage of world class players in this South African squad. We have some of the best players in the world, but when the chips were down and New Zealand were chasing a tough target, we lost composure. The pressure told.
South Africa had been blinded by their own publicity. We came in to the World Cup on the back of beating an average West Indies in our home series. No, let me rephrase, the Windies were, and are, a lot worse than average.
We came to the World Cup believing the hype, that we’re better than we actually are. We knocked over Zimbabwe, West Indies, Ireland and the UAE in the pool stages but lost to India and Pakistan. India are a class act but Pakistan are in the second tier of the ODI game. They’re not top four in the world, which South Africa are, along with Australia, India and New Zealand.
We arrived in the quarter-final having lost those two matches and then steamrolled Sri Lanka. It was a nice win, but what was going on with our team selection to drop Kyle Abbott for Vernon Philander for the semi-final? That is just bizarre.
The defeats against India and Pakistan were written off as ‘bad days’ but the truth is that South Africa didn’t deserve to be in this World Cup final. New Zealand did and well done to them. They, along with India, have stuck to the same players throughout the competition and it has paid dividends.
People forget how we got to the semi-final. In the only two matches in that we were tested – against India and Pakistan – we came up woefully short.
South Africa, up to the semi-finals, still didn’t know who their best XI was. Again, that’s just bizarre. And the issue of the fifth bowler was always going to bite us on the bum.
The side has quality – and a lot of it. I thought we’d get to the final, and once we did, that we would win it. We had a lot of luck going our way but our luck ran out.
But, I keep coming back to the one word: pressure.
New Zealand had a tough total to chase and they embraced it. As a player I thrived on pressure, I enjoyed it. People might refer to the ‘famous’ 1999 incident where I supposedly ‘dropped the World Cup’ but the reality is that I took the catch and was actually over-confident. It wasn’t a case of nerves or anything like that but I was too eager to celebrate. It definitely wasn’t succumbing to any pressure against Australia on the World Cup stage.
In Auckland the rain came at a perfect time for New Zealand, but even had we scored 320, on a field like that with its short and square boundaries we’d have struggled. The dimensions of the field always meant that 300 was par and in a semi-final of the World Cup you have to way better than that to reach the final.
I’ll go back to the word ‘pressure’. Don’t call it anything other than that. South Africa had two clear run out opportunities and with more composure they would have effected both of them and the game would have changed. It was there to be won, not lost, given the runs New Zealand were asked to chase.
Rilee Rossouw is the leading catcher in the tournament so far and he’s a quality fielder. But he botched the throw to AB and Corey Anderson, on 33 and in the 32nd over, was given a lifeline. It was a crucial moment and Rilee couldn’t handle it. He needed to be calm. At that stage New Zealand needed 94 from 70 balls and had Rilee got it right they would have needed 94 from 69 and only five wickets left.
Quinton de Kock also missed a simple run out of Grant Elliott off Rilee and then in the second last over Farhaan Behardien and JP Duminy clattered into one another when Behardien had seemed odds-on to pocket an Elliott top edge. And who hit the winning runs? Yes, Elliott.
It’s an ongoing thing with South Africa. We simply can’t retain our composure at crucial moments of important matches and I don’t pretend to have the answer as to why not.
Gibbs played 90 Tests and 248 ODI matches for South Africa and scored more than 14,500 runs for his country. He also scored 175 in that ‘438 match’ against Australia at the Wanderers and hit six sixes in an over at the 2007 World Cup