The word ‘choke’ is a term that has various connotations and also found significance within the sporting world. The history of professional sport is littered with teams and individuals that have failed to win a specific match or tournament in which they were heavily favoured, or thrown away a considerable lead or advantage to, ultimately, lose. This term has shadowed the Proteas for the best part of two decades in the context of the ICC Cricket World Cup. It was spoken about when I made my debut and still about upon my retirement 12 years later.
A popular adage in sports is to stress that the history annals only record the statistics of the respective match or tournament, and not the comments around it. However, that would be doing an injustice to the six games in which the Proteas were knocked out of the ICC Cricket World Cups in which they have competed. The history of the Proteas in the ICC Cricket World Cups is recorded in cricket folklore, not for the losses themselves, but for the context of the losses. There is a certain degree of pride that can be taken as a result of the fact that for 19 years the Proteas were able to maintain a consistent standard around, leading up to, and during the respective ICC Cricket World Cups that ensured they were always among the tournament favourites.
It is in turn for this very reason that the losses were always magnified due to the fact that these normally went against the form book and bucked the trend that the team had set. For three of these losses, I was either on the field or in the changing-room, and for the other three I can still recall exactly where I was as well when they occurred.
Every one of these losses has been dissected and analysed in order to try and ensure that there is no repeat. But no plan in cricket is ever foolproof. I personally poured over our exits in the three tournaments in which I played wondering how the end result could have turned out differently. Furthermore, I was engrossed in the tournaments of 1992, 1996 and 1999 and deliberated for ages over the manner of our respective exits even though I was still a teenager and had no direct influence over the path the team would follow thereafter. Ultimately, you learn to accept the outcome, move on and look to the future as player and a fan.
It is always challenging to seek and take elements of optimism, encouragement, construction and progression from a loss and especially one in a tournament. However, sometimes the only comfort from a poor result is the knowledge that the hard lessons that have to be learned will only improve yourself and the team. The emotion post the disappointment is always painful but it is important to acknowledge it and be present in it. Once the reaction subsides it is imperative to find space and gain perspective. This is not a process that can be rushed but it has to be found in order to obtain the necessary closure. One needs to look inwards as an individual and team in order to absorb the experience and heed that lesson.
I cannot deny that the Proteas have exited the ICC Cricket World Cups in bizarre circumstances (Sydney 1992, Birmingham 1999 and Durban 2003) but they have also been outplayed on the day in others (Karachi 1996, St. Lucia 2007 and Dhaka 2011). At each of these ICC Cricket World Cups, the Proteas showed good form during the event. However, I cannot categorically say that we were without doubt the best team or would absolutely have gone on to win any of the tournaments if we had got through our knock-out game. We can only surmise as to what would have been.
Regardless of whether or not the chokers tag is justified, it is a label that the current Proteas side has to live with in preparation for the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015. They have made peace with it given their history, but are resolute in their belief that they are on the verge of shedding this tag once and for all. I know that the current squad are good enough to win this year’s tournament and I expect that they will go deep. I am hoping that come 29 March 2015, this team will have a new tag of ‘the history-makers’.