Another World Cup, another disappointing campaign and yet personally the only thing I am more disappointed about from the last six weeks has been the reaction from the so-called Protea ‘fans’ who have become the teams biggest nightmare.
Growing up in the wake of the 1999 controversial run out with Allan Donald, there are few more things more frustrating than watching the Proteas continue to struggle to deliver a World Cup trophy.
However, as each World Cup or ICC Champions Trophy passed, it was evident that the word ‘choker’, that gets uselessly thrown around by people who have contributed as much towards South African cricket as the scores of South African representing England over the years, has become a sort of kryptonite for the team itself.
Much like an inswinging yorker bowled at 150 km/h, it is almost impossible for any player to keep out what is said by the fans and media across the world in the modern game as players continue to get targeted and labelled failures before they even set foot on the field.
South Africa went into the World Cup with less than half the team has ever played a World Cup match before and yet already the ‘choker’s label was being thrown to immediately discredit their chances.
And yes the team didn’t perform and as fans, we continue to wait for our first piece of silverware (we wait to see if we will be waiting with the English fans, not that they ever receive a label) but I think it is safe to say that anyone that has watched the team in the last 24 months noticed a big difference to the way the Proteas went about their business in England compared to the previous series’.
Every time the Proteas stepped out on the field there was something affecting the way they played and the simple explanation is fear.
Fear of failure is a burden every Protea’s player has to play with no matter what form nor records they have. Kagiso Rabada has been up there with Jasprit Bumrah as the leading fast bowler in the world for the last two years and yet a few bad games and he is already being questioned. Andile Phehlukwayo performs badly and the notorious ‘quota’ word is suddenly back in a big way despite being our top all-rounder in limited overs cricket since the Champions Trophy.
Don’t get me wrong Phehlukwayo started the tournament well but there was definitely a justified argument for him to be dropped as he faded and became more and more expensive but there is not a shred of justification in even mentioning him and the word ‘quota’ in the same sentence.
The Proteas remain one of the top sides in the world and have always given their fans plenty to celebrate and we are quick to take it for granted that no matter who and where we play, the expectation is that we can beat which is something quite special.
One only needs to look at the West Indies and Bangladesh for evidence about what playing the game fearlessly can do. They might not have qualified for the semis but both teams had some terrific moments in the World Cup, think the Carlos Brathwaite century and Shakib Al Hasan tournament.
Cricket is one of the biggest games of confidence and without it, the best player in the world can be outdone by an average franchise level player. South Africa will never be able to perform to the best of the abilities until they begin to play with confidence and without fear of failure.
South African fans, members of the media as well as ex-players (as though they did any better) continue to bash every player, every coach, every person involved to the point where it is almost like they are playing against the team itself.
Chokers proteas performing..when there is no pressure
— Lebogang (@tycoonnasir111) July 6, 2019
— Graeme Smith (@GraemeSmith49) June 23, 2019
Moving forward they as a team will need to work out how to do that. To say they can’t handle pressure is an insult to the many amazing matches they have produced in recent years however, the World Cup is a different animal.
But while Cricket South Africa and the Proteas find ways to improve the structures of cricket in the country and produce a team capable of lifting the ICC World Cup trophy, we as fans and pundits and members of the media, need to shed the chokers tags and remember that these players are only human, are desperate to win the trophy and prove anyone wrong and that the sooner they have a country behind them rather than one waiting for them to fail, the bigger the chance is for them to actually go the distance.
I am not saying we cannot be critical of their performances because constructive criticism can breed good reactions. But throwing a word like ‘choker’ around is simply dismissing the efforts of players who have given up a lot of time, money and personal accolades to play for the South African national team.
In case you are reading this and are part of the ‘chokers’ tag epidemic, I suggest you take some time to watch Bangladesh fans and learn a thing or two about how to support your team no matter what the state of it is.