Every cricket team leaves our shores with much hope, promise and high expectancy to win an ICC tournament, only to return with regret, failure, disappointment and shock.
The 2015 World Cup team left with a send off that usually only champions receive on their return, after winning a major tournament. So much pomp and ceremony and embarrassing speeches from dignitaries about losers, winning, uniting our nation and slogans were the order of the day. There was lots of winning talk, lots of excitement, lots of hype. Our team was paraded on a stage wearing designer sunglasses and jewelry, supporting the latest fashion hair styles, and smiling and waving to the adoring crowd. Interviews were conducted and television cameras rolled to record all the positive, obvious and meaningless talk from the players.
I remember the acknowledged embarrassment of the successful Brazilian soccer coach Carlos Parreira, when our national soccer team paraded through the streets of Sandton before the start of the 2010 World Cup. When asked what he thought of the parade, he stated that he had never been involved in a pre-tournament parade, without any results to warrant it.
At a press conference the South African cricket coach stated that the Proteas were mentally strong. He made a similar comment in November last year on his team’s return after losing 4-1 in a series against Australia. The captain, AB de Villiers stated that his team should have beaten the Australians since they were always in winning positions but the critical moments in the matches went against them. If what they were saying is to be believed, then without realising it the coach and captain were in fact inadvertently acknowledging that the team had actually choked in their matches against Australia.
It seems that the leadership in the team do not have any idea about how the self-fulfilling prophecy of choking gets perpetuated. Adamant denial, exaggerated expectancy and intense desperation to prove one’s worth are the nutrients for sustaining the choking issue at tournaments.
There have been comments made that this cricket team is different from those in the past. I am not too sure what criteria has been used to draw such a conclusion. While we do have our match-winning super stars in AB de Villiers, Hashim Amla, Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel, the choking issue by-passes the individual level and instead exists in the unconscious, group psyche of the team.
There are going to be many unexpected, critical moments during the tournament that will test the psyche of whoever is in the middle of that particular unfolding event. The choking process can be likened to a haunted house. While there may be bravado while the sun is still up, at the stroke of 12 at midnight the nerve of whoever is in the haunted house will be severely tested.
I wish our cricket team the best of luck in the tournament. However, I feel that there is so much of the ‘same old, same old’ again in how the team and its leadership and administration have gone about speaking about the need to bring the trophy home. Such words are the building blocks of creating the very reality for us to fold under pressure again. Having said this, I hope that I am proved wrong.
During a recent visit to the Kruger National Park, I watched in amazement at how a little pied kingfisher hunted for its trophy. It was rewarded with a trophy that I couldn’t believe that it was capable of getting. It was a real treat just watching it enjoy its meal.