Chennai, Feb 11 (IANS) There is no respite for South Africa as they continue to be plagued by the tag of chokers and AB de Villiers, their middle-order batsman also known for his electric fielding, had to again straight bat questions on this ticklish point during an “open house” interaction with the media here Friday.
Much as the South Africans would like to project themselves as a mentally tough outfit that can survive any on-field crisis and more importantly, win key games, the fact that their cupboard has no International Cricket Council(ICC) trophy reflects a different picture.
“We have shown recently that we can play in big situations and under pressure,” insisted de Villiers who is one of the key members of the South African squad that is hoping to shrug off the chokers tag by winning the 2011 World Cup tournament commencing on Feb 19.
Among the most celebrated comments in the history of the ICC World Cup has been the one by the former Australian captain Steve Waugh who, on being let off by Herscehelle Gibbs en route to scoring a match-winning 120 not out at the 1999 edition, remarked: “You just dropped the Cup mate”. Waugh subsequently denied having said so, but the quote became part of the Cup folklore.
The incident is often held up to support the theory that the South Africans just do not have it in them to survive the last mile to success as their performances in the subsequent tournaments showed.
Thus, over the years, the South Africans have been struggling to exorcise the ghosts, but with little success. Even the noted psychologist Henning Gericke, who worked with the cricketers was not able to break the mental block.
However, de Villiers believes that the South African team has overcome this mental hurdle and does not need any “extra help”.
“We are not focusing on what happened in the past. We have a different look now. In recent times, we have been the opposite of chokers. ICC tournaments are different, there is pressure in the knockouts, but we will be ready for it.”
Their recent triumphs, notably the 3-2 series win against India after trailing 1-2 and a similar victory over Pakistan when the Proteas won a tense fifth game, might lend credence to de Villiers’ reiteration as he pointed out that the team is now better prepared than at any time in the past.
“The team does not need more psychologists and we are focusing on the small things and not worried about that (failing under pressure) at all,” he asserted.
De Villiers’ observations ran parallel to those of his captain, Graeme Smith, who Thursday had said his team would be adopting a flexible approach to allow the players play their “natural game” so as to lessen the pressure.
“We have more than enough flair. I do not want us to be the unpredictable side of the tournament and I think we are at the level where we can read situations and adapt.”
“It will be physically challenging for me, but it is best for the team and I have been preparing well,” said de Villiers about his dual responsibility of a top-order batsman and wicketkeeper.
The South Africans are scheduled to play a warm-up day/night game against Zimbabwe Saturday and the tie could well provide a pointer or two on their level of preparedness.