South Africa coach Rob Walter has dismissed claims his team suffered another dose of World Cup semi-final stage fright in their tense three-wicket defeat to Australia on Friday morning.
The Proteas slipped to 24-4 after they elected to bat first before David Miller’s 101 pulled them to 212 all out at Kolkata’s Eden Gardens.
The South African bowlers fought valiantly to defend the total and had the opposition in trouble at 137-5 before Australia reached their target with 16 balls to spare.
It was South Africa’s fifth defeat in a World Cup semi-final and third against Australia after 1999 and 2007. The 31-year curse of the team never reaching a World Cup final continues — and one damning word was particularly impossible to ignore after the match.
Walter after the match insisted the team’s performance “was nothing even remotely close to a choke”.
“You need to define what a choke is,” Walter told reporters.
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“For me, a choke is losing a game that you’re in a position to win. In this instance, we were behind the eight ball right from the word go and we actually fought our way back into the competition and put up a score that gave us a chance.”
He added: “Then they got off to a flyer and we fought and we put ourselves back into the game… so for me there’s nothing even remotely close to a choke that happened out there today. It’s a serious contest between two good teams.”
South Africa have developed a reputation for “choking”, the word used to describe surrendering what appears to be positions of strength.
In 1999, they were defeated by Australia in the semi-finals when they needed just one run from four balls but ended up losing in a farcical run-out.
Four years later, they were knocked out after misreading the rain rules while in 2015 they lost a semi-final when New Zealand clobbered a six off the last ball.
The Proteas played impressive cricket in the group phase in India where they won seven of nine matches.
One of those wins was against Australia in Lucknow four weeks ago where they piled up 311-7 and bowled out their rivals for just 177 for a 134-run victory.
In their win against Sri Lanka, they even made a World Cup record of 428-5.
Walter was also forced to address the performance of struggling captain Temba Bavuma.
Walter said he was “proud” despite the injured captain being unable to break the country’s World Cup jinx.
Bavuma played the match despite not being 100 per cent fit due to a hamstring injury and was out for a fourth-ball duck.
Bavuma, an opening batsman who missed two games in the World Cup through illness, managed just 145 runs in eight matches with a highest score of 35.
“I just told him how proud I am of him,” Walter said of Bavuma.
“You know he marshalled the troops this evening unbelievably well.
“He was the lead man that got us into this tournament in the first place, I think people forget that so I just wanted to make sure that he was aware of how important he is in this team and how proud I am of his efforts and the way he led throughout the tournament.”
Bavuma has played 38 ODIs for South Africa, scoring 1,512 runs at an average of over 45.
Walter defended the decision to play Bavuma despite not being fully recovered from the injury he picked against Afghanistan last Friday.
“If you looked at him in the field, if you didn’t know that he wasn’t 100 per cent, you wouldn’t have guessed,” said Walter.
“So, in terms of being 100 per cent, I think he was pretty close, to be fair. He went through the entire week, he got better every day. And the only potential red flag might have been if something happened in the field.”
The crushing defeat could easily have devastated the South African team, but Gerald Coetzee’s comments before the match suggest the team won’t carry the nation’s history of semi-final failure.
“Of course we are speaking about winning but we understand it’s a difficult game and there is no dishonour in losing,” Coetzee said before the match.
“We are coming to play. What happens on the day is out of our control. If we lose, we lose. If people want to call us chokers or not, that is out of our control. Someone has to lose. But I promise you, we are going to the game to win the game.”
The Proteas now must wait four years for another attempt at redemption, when they host the 2027 World Cup.
— with AFP
Originally published as World ignores South Africa’s desperate plea as one-word cricket curse strikes