“I have absolutely no idea what to do from here on in. I don’t even know when we’re going home.”, ” It’s going to take some time to get over this. As a captain, I’ll be there for the guys as much as I can, but there is nothing you can do about it now,” said the man, leading the team infamously called the ‘chokers’, as he parted from the press conference post what probably was the match of the World Cup by far. Sadly, South Africa did not choke this time as was promised by their captain but it was their biggest strength, their fielding, that actually cost them the cup against Baz and Co.
South Africa and rains are not the best of friends which we all know ever since they made their first entry in the 1992 edition post the end of apartheid. From needing 22 off 13 balls against England at SCG to suddenly needing an impossible 22 off 1 ball (as per the rules for rain affected matches in those days) thanks to the 10 minute rain break to the 12 minute rain delay in the 2003 edition at Durban against Sri Lanka, Lord Zeus hasn’t been very kind to them. However, today they were up against not only the rain gods but also their fielding demons in the form of a few dropped catches and missed run-out chances. Remember, Herschelle Gibbs, who dropped a sitter and let off Steve Waugh in the 1999 edition who effectively ended up scripting the famous Australian win? History repeated itself today as they did the same to the man born in their own land, Grant Elliott, thrice, who played the innings of his life as he saw his adopted country to their first ever World Cup final.
As Elliott hit a length ball from Steyn into the stands, came out his big roar with both his arms in the air, a big hug from Dan and the rest of his team-mates, the crowd was on its feet and tears of joy ran down the eyes of the Kiwi fans. It was as if they had literally won the cup. They certainly however reached one step closer to it and in style.
While the 40,000 people chanted away in glory, celebrating the victory their boys handed them, there were pangs being felt in the hearts of 15 men dressed in green and just a few metres away from the joyous crowd. While most of these men couldn’t move from their outfield positions, unable to believe that their world had crashed right in front of their eyes, that they would not return to their people as champions but as a bunch who could only expect that their countrymen would be proud of them.” Tears rolled down the eyes of Steyn as he sat there in dismay while Morkel and Faf cried like babies in the Parnell and Amla’s arms respectively. And then there was another man, nicknamed ‘Superman’, down on his haunches. It is impossible to comprehend what he must be thinking at that time but it is most definitive to say that he would have felt let down. It is a shame to see ABD in tears for all he has ever done, be it picking up the ball to give his team that needed breakthrough or to throw himself on the field to save a single, a one man show, a leader who had faith in his men through-out and had the guts to utter the words, “We Won’t Choke”. As he admitted in the press conference that they were extremely gutted and they probably left it all out on the field this night, they surely couldn’t have asked anymore of each other. What was indeed touching was Elliott offering a consoling hand to Steyn but only if there was a way to mend their aching hearts and to tell them where the road to recovery lies. As he himself said aloud and as quoted in the beginning of this article, this bunch of men have probably had enough knock-out punches for them to just rise again easily.
What a contrast in emotions there was today but this is what a game of victory and defeat does to you. The line between victory and defeat today was as thin as it could ever get for the Proteas in a knockout match, but they failed to cross it, they failed to shrug off that tag once again, they were undone by none other than their best friend, their fielding.
It is far more easy for us to feel bad and let go off after a while or as their coach put it “The sun will come up again tomorrow and life moves on”. But what these men go through each time they play a major tournament is nothing less than agony and sheer pain. Imagine the demons of your past hanging all around you as you set out to accomplish one of the most important tasks of your life, Imagine someone constantly reminding you that you just don’t have it in you to make it count at the most impounding of occasions, Imagine drum beats in a pack stadium reminding you “Choke! Choke! Choke!” You are a human after-all and more often than not, you give in to the nerves. This stress/pressure surely drains them way more than what they experience on the field or as they weep silently behind closed doors. I can only wonder what it does to their confidence level and I am sure that it takes more than mere courage to come back to your feet again.
I am not sure how many of us are familiar with the Mats Wilander-Ramesh Krishnan story wherein the reigning number one lost to the 51st ranked Indian in straight sets, leading to the biggest upset of the 1989 Australian Open and post that hardly ever managed to stay in top 10. That is exactly how draining a loss in a crucial game can be and these men have had it as company for ages now.
Yet, such is their passion for the game and love for their nation that more than feeling bad for themselves, ABD made a statement, “We play this game to win games of cricket, to take glory home and make a difference to the nation, and we didn’t do that. We didn’t achieve that.” He isn’t proud of the fact that they made it to top 4 but is upset that they could not do it for their people, he isn’t even sure if his people would be proud of his men. That is exactly what psychological frailty does to you after a string of defeats at crucial times. If only we could stop calling them ‘Chokers‘, it would probably spare them some more pain.
Not many of these 15 would probably take the field again in the next edition of the World Championship, I am not sure if this was their best chance ever to win the Cup, they will not go back home as champions again and have no silverware to show for flaunt, but they certainly have won many a hearts and yes AB, we are all proud of you and your men and I can most certainly say that You’ll have defeated that demon called “Choke” just like you had promised.