'Chokers' tag continues to haunt South Africa

South Africa's Jacques Kallis, foreground right sits on the team bench, during their semi final Twenty20 World Cup cricket match against Pakistan. AP

For all the right words, sane and sanguine thinking and public posturing, skipper Smith did let it slip when he conceded his side would be "devastated" by yesterday's seven-run defeat at the hands of Pakistan in the first semifinal of the Twenty20 World Cup.

This crushing sense of loss of so many reverses -- 1996, 1999, 2003 and 2007 World Cups; the roadblocks of Champions Trophy and now two successive ICC World Twenty20 —- must have taken a toll on the Proteas cricketers' psyche.

Other occasions too come to mind in an instant: losing the semifinals of the ICC Knockout Trophy in 2000; two years later losing to India in the semifinals from an astonishing position and then semifinalists again in 2006 edition of the ICC Knock Out Trophy.
Words alone don't provide cure -- correctives do but South Africa, since its readmission into the game in early 90s, has only been a bridesmaid or worse.
Choking, according to a research, comes from thinking too much. It causes a loss of instinct and panic sets in. It happens when a sportsman experiences spasms of doubt and is unable to focus. Negative thoughts unleash anxiety and a player loses his ability to perform under pressure. The result is disaster.

The inclusion of former England international and sports psychologist Jeremy Snape in the South African team's support staff two years ago had a specific purpose -- it was to deal and then flush out the negative psychosis which grips the Protea players in moments of crisis.
When South Africa could chase down 400-plus target in Perth or when they won the Test series Down Under for the first time early this year, it appeared Snape had done the catharsis for South Africa.
Similar was the case in Pakistan where a 2-2 deadlock was turned into a 3-2 scoreline. It then chased down 281 against England and 414 against Australia at WACA. The extraordinary WACA run-chase was completed by two youngest batsmen in the team, AB de Villiers and JP Duminy.
It was believed the younger lot don't carry the hangover. Dale Steyn and Morkel brothers -- Albie and Morne -- only know how to win. Before the defeat at the hands of Australia early this year, most in the team never tasted a series loss in their career. Instead, they knew only of winning in Pakistan, England and Australia.
But the core group of South Africa team -— Herschelle Gibbs, Jacques Kallis, Mark Boucher and captain Smith -— remain the same as of old and crisis still show them up. The Proteas still lose and that word "chokers" is plastered all over again.

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