In an unexpected move, Gary Kirsten has admitted that South Africa choked against England in their ICC Champions Trophy semi-final a few days ago. Most would agree that it was right of the former Protea opener to accept the long-standing label. After all, the first step to overcoming a problem is admitting that you have it.
However, I disagree with Gazza. Usually I struggle to find fault in anything he says, but I disagree with his labeling of the horrible performance as a choke. Why? Let’s delve into what choking actually is.
Choking, as defined by the ever-reliable Wikipedia, is “the failure of an athlete or an athletic team to win a game or tournament when the player or team had been strongly favored to win or had squandered a large lead in the late stages of the event.” Now I think we can all accept that the famous failure of 99 was indeed a choke. With scores level, and two more balls to go, being run-out in the fashion Donald was can be described as nothing other than a choke.
Equally, the Boucher choke fufils the second definition of a choke – squandering a very winnable situation by a daft mathematical error.
However, choking is just a tiny part of our problem at ICC events. The choking tag is whipped out at any opportunity, but our problem is so much more than messing up in easy situations. The problem isn’t that we’re chokers; the problem is that we believe we’re chokers.
The power of the mind is incredible. I’ll not go into the details, but it is incredibly clear as humans that our attitude and self-belief hugely influences our performances in the various tasks we carry out. Quite simply, SA’s self-belief is non-existent once they reach the later stages of big tournaments. It’s become such a thing in the media, and indeed in cricket society in general, that the players always have choking in the back of their minds. Some will deny it, for indeed it may not be a conscious thought. However, it’s clear from the persistent weak mental performances by the Proteas, spread over a long string of ICC tournaments, that the players simply don’t believe in themselves.
Pre-tournament, I was hopeful that a largely new-generation team would be able to shake off the tag that has invariably been carried between tournaments by senior players. As good as Graeme Smith and Jacques Kallis are, it was not necessarily a bad thing that their previous experience as chokers was not to form a part of the Protea’s Champions Trophy campaign. Don’t get me wrong – I’m a massive fan of both, but for the mental strength of the team, it may have been the best option.
However, it wasn’t enough. We still managed to display utterly shocking mental strength despite the lack of anything more than one or two players who had previously experienced such weakness. Sadly, for all of the positives Kirsten brought to the team, he couldn’t nail our biggest issue.
The issue of that tag.
The Champions Trophy kicks off tomorrow as South Africa take on India in a battle between two of the pre-tournament favourites. Whilst it’d appear to be a mouth-watering clash, in truth it seems destined to be far from juicy.
South Africa, already without star players Graeme Smith and Jacques Kallis for the tournament, look set to be stuck without star pacer Dale Steyn. Steyn is reportedly likely to miss the match due to a side-strain. Worryingly too, for the Proteas, Quinton de Kock has been summoned to England. There could well be some underlying reason pertaining to AB de Villiers’ recurring back problem.
India, too, are without many of the stars that have made the team so formidable in the past. Virendher Sehwag, Sachin Tendulkar, Yuvraj Singh and Yusuf Pathan are all non-present at the Champions Trophy, and suddenly the side looks more bark less bite.
Morne Morkel will be crucial to South Africa’s hopes of victory, particularly if Dale Steyn doesn’t play tomorrow. The lanky pacer has the ability to rip through any batting line-up on his day, and he’ll need to be in top form to do so tomorrow. Able support will be found in the likes of Lonwabo Tsotsobe and Ryan McLaren, but Morkel will need to finally make the step-up from being “the guy that partners Steyn.”
Virat Kohli is seen as the next big thing, and with figureheads like Tendulkar and Sehwag absent, he’ll need to take over the batting responsibility at the top of the order. His insane talent gives him ample resources to do so, but so many have wasted extreme talent in the face of huge pressure. He’ll be hoping not to form into a similar trap.
Despite their side having a monolithic 296 run lead with two days to go, England fans still managed to find negatives in their performance in a way only the English can.
Jonathan Trott bore the brunt of a bitterly bored English public’s wrath. The Anglo-anchor was accused of batting too negatively given the match situation. The fans wanted quick runs so that they could declare early and ensure that they had enough time to get the woeful New Zealand batting line-up out.
Now I understand their reasoning. Who would say no to quick runs at that situation? However, there is a crucial point that they all seemed to miss.
Jonathan Trott isn’t a quick starter. Never has been; never will be. It’s part of the Trott package that he won’t walk out and bash a run-a-ball 20 to get going.
If there was a problem with yesterday’s batting, it was the fault of those in leadership. Trott was never going to walk out and score quick runs. He’s a great anchor, but that’s as far as he goes. He’s done so well because he knows where his limits lie. Expecting him to come out and attack from the get go would be a bit like trying to get Virendher Sehwag to come out and block. Players like Trott and Sehwag know their limitations, and have built their careers around sticking to their strengths.
If England really needed some firepower yesterday, they could easily have pushed Matt Prior up the order. So let’s stop with the Trott-hate.
Nathan Lyon ploughed through a strong Indian batting line-up, earning three gritty wickets for his toil. The Lyon-hearted offie was impressively resiliant, showing no change of emotion in his face even after reaching a vilestone of 200 runs conceded. He maintained the proud Australian spin tradition – attitude gets wickets – and his wickets can be attributed to his “I’ll keep on bowling with no change of facial expression even though I’m getting pummelled more than a boxing bag in Mike Tyson’s garage” attitude.
Ashwin, however, was an utter disappointment. His 7-fa in the first innings showed promise, but he fell away in the second innings, taking just 5 scalps. When your spinner is getting less wickets in the second innings, there is cause for concern. Journalists scrambled to find Ashwin’s family tree to search for any South African links that could let them attribute his choke to his genes, but the lack of any connections has led experts to believe that he is just a poor spin bowler.
So, as we head into the second Tests, Australia will be pleased with the gritty promise shown by Lyon whilst India may look to replace Ashwin with slow left armer Ojha. You heard it here first. And last.
There is a standard path to international cricket. Club to seconds. Seconds to professional. Professional to Tests. A standard, slight statistical drop when reach the next standard is to be expected, as it is a higher level than that which the player has been playing. Usually, the player makes up the skill difference fairly quickly.
But not always.
I have decided to compile a team of players who, on FC statistics, looked set to have a solid Test career, but somehow managed to stuff it up. Off we go…
1) Wasim Jaffer
Anyone who averages over 50 in FC cricket has to be doing something right. Sure, sub-continental pitches are easier to bat on blah blah blah but 51 is quality by anyone’s standards. In comparison, legendary Indian opener Virender Sehwag averages under 50, as does the young hope of the nation, Virat Kohli.
You’d therefore expect him to be quite a hit on the test scene, right? Wrong. In the 31 Tests he played, he averaged just 34.1 – that including an average of 69 against Bangladesh, and 44 against a weak post-2000 West Indies bowling attack. You’d understand if he was battling after 10 matches, but 31 is a large-enough sample size to prove your worth. Gautam Gambhir was given a go due to Jaffer’s failings, and the rest was history. Rumour has it he could be looking at playing more Tests in the near future, so we’ll have to see what happens although at this point in his career you’d think it’s a bit late. Any batsman whose name means “Great ball, the batsman couldn’t play that” in cricket terms isn’t exactly destined for greatness.
Prolific ODI batsman Knight’s Test failure was a large surprise to many avid followers of English Cricket. Everything pointed towards him having the potential to be a genuine 40+averaging opener. An ODI batting average over 40 showed that his mental game was up to the harsh international stage, and his FC batting average of nearly 45 showed that he wasn’t just a short-format bully.
Alas, 17 Tests at an average of 24 were all his talented frame could churn out. Once you realise that 4 of those were against Zimbabwe, it looks even worse. Some believed he should have got more chances, but the ineptitude of his past performances were too much for the selectors to overlook.
Knight in shining armour? More like Knight impaled on the spears of the opposition.
3) Mark Ramprakash
The XI was made for him, or so you’d believe when you take a look at his statistics. He was the best batsman in the County Championship for a long period, and it ensured that he managed to earn him 52 Test caps despite his consistent failings at international level.
His FC statistics are incredible. A FC average of 53 over 461 matches and nearly 36000 runs is good in any FC league in the world, so in the highly-competitive County Championship it was impossible to ignore. Too bad he had the mentality of a straw when it came to international cricket. Ie, his mentality sucked.
It’s disappointing that someone of such obvious pedigree and ability couldn’t leave his Mark on the international game,
Next edition we will reveal nos 4 to 7.
Herein lie our tactics* for the second Test against South Africa. This information is incredibly top secret. Please don’t let this get into any wrong hands. Particularly not that pesky Cows Corner blogger.
Graeme Smith: You hardly need tactics against Smith when you have a left-armer. Bowl Junaid at him until Smith departs. He shouldn’t last longer than 15 balls against Junaid. As he walks off, get Junaid to rasp at him with a thick Irish accent, “Smitheh baby, have a guiness for meh. Maybe it’ll cancel out your tipsy balance.”
Alviro Petersen: This is a guy that likes to keep a low profile. He’s done very well over the past while, averaging well into the 40s. You’d never guess, though, due to his ability to slip under the radar. Therefore, our best tactic would be to push him into the media limelight. Start with little hints such as “Robin Peterson? He’s not even the best Peterson in the team!” Then progress to “Petersen is a key member of their batting line-up. If we get him early, it gives us a huge advantage.” Finally, end with “Smith is to Petersen as the side-kick usually is to the main villain – Usually looks hilariously idiotic, and not nearly as effective.” That’ll get Smith’s blood boiling too.
Hashim Amla: At this point it’d be best to confirm that there will be a new addition to the squad. Saeed Anwar will be joining the team, and upon Amla’s arrival to the crease, will be placed at short-leg. His job will be to whisper to Amla “Cute stubble, bud,” and “Welcome to the big league.”
Jacques Kallis: We will be paying a hair-growth company to advertise on the big scoreboard. “You think Jacques’ hair growth was amazing? Please. We’ll grow you more hair on your head than Anwar has on his chin!” If that doesn’t get Jakes retiring his innings and running back into the changeroom to fetch his cellphone, we’re screwed.
AB de Villiers: Organise him and his band a few big gigs. After the tasks of keeping, batting, and the built-upon pressure of his ODI captaincy woes of the past, this will be one task too many. Expect more emotional fireworks than you’d find literal ones at an IPL final.
Faf du Plessis: When he walks out to bat, scream “97.20? You’re no Bradman!” Then all fielders should violently beat their chests and shout “Me see ball. Me hit ball with stick.”
Dean Elgar: We don’t really know much about him. We don’t really care, either. Just get Irfan to bowl at his head.
Robin Peterson: Formerly famed as arguably the worst spinner in international cricket, he has since had a spurt of form which has resulted in him thinking he is a test-standard bowler. Smash him for a few sixes and it’ll be back to the good ol’ days. Or else you’ll feel good about yourself, anyway.
Vernon Philander: Plant both feet on your off-stump and sit the bat straight up, directly in line with off. Philander either seams it onto fourth stump or lets it go straight on to off. With the above tactic you’ll have both deliveries covered. Simple, right?
Dale Steyn: Have a wild swing at his first few, and connect one or two of the swings for six. That’ll get him angry and bowling bouncers. Then just get your duck on.Put your bat on your toes and get ready for the short stuff. Any surprise yorkers will be covered by your toe-sitting bat.
Morne Morkel: Partner Anwar with the 7″1 Mohammed Irfan up front with the bat. Rumour has it that Irfan is a decent bat, but struggles against most bowlers because he can’t bend down enough to reach their deliveries. Morkel will provide him with a barrage of half-volleys. Plan B: Duck.
*The above blog post is fictitious. None of the above has actually been leaked. It would be great to see some of it happen, though, don’t ya think?
It’s a bit ironic, isn’t it. An entire article, dedicated to highlighting Kallis’ status as an under-the-radar great.
For a great he is. His status as one of the top two batting all-rounders of all-time is unquestioned, and he is the first name entered onto a South African All-Time Greatest XI. He is bulldozing his way towards becoming the first cricketer ever to score 13000 runs as well as claim 300 wickets in Tests – a feat not even close to being paralleled as of now, and one that seems unlikely to be surpassed in the foreseeable future.
That much is universally accepted, and rightly so. What isn’t quite as convincingly accepted is the claim of his fanboys that he is on a par with Tendulkar, Lara and Ponting on batting alone. Is he?
Kallis has the best batting average of the bunch, but this is often muffled by claims that he is a minnow bully, which has bumped up his batting average. However, after the removal of matches against Zimbabwe and Bangladesh, he still sits with the highest test average out of the foursome.
Some would consider New Zealand and Sri Lanka to be easy pickings too, so I tested the stats with them removed. Kallis still easily came out on top.
Of course, Ponting and Lara’s statistics both include their end-of-career slumps, which must be taken into consideration. So too has Tendulkar suffered from an age-induced slump over the past year or so. The gap between the respective averages, though, highlights the leeway Kallis still has during his expected forthcoming slump. That said, his age of 37 combined with his extra responsibility of bowling should means that he should already be suffering from a slump. His maintained ability is something else that should distinguish him as a class act in itself.
Why, then, is Kallis generally seen as being a step below the other three on crickets ladder of batting legends? Well, the answer is quite simple. His X-factor is often seen as a negative when being judged against the X-factors of his competitors. Tendulkar successfully carried the weight of a billion people’s hopes on his shoulders, and did so in arguably the most elegant manner ever witnessed in the history of Test cricket. Lara personified a unique flair that made him an absolute joy to watch, and he managed to maintain this flair despite being in a weak batting line-up. Ponting led one of the greatest teams in history with a hard-nosed, gritty manner.
Kallis? He is the most solid batsman of his generation. Rahul Dravid was nicknamed “the wall,” in comparison, Kallis was and is “the kevlar-coated wall of lead.” He had the ability to stick it out for hours in the most gruelling of circumstances. Noone of his generation could, or can, compete with Kallis in the defensive stakes.
This ability often proved to be his biggest criticism. He was often labelled as “selfish” and “boring,” but what he brought to a fragile South African batting line-up was absolutely invaluable. Even as one of his biggest fans I’ll admit that he sometimes defended too much when the situation needed aggression, but no player is perfect. Even Donald Bradman was only 99.94% perfection.
Another idea often vaunted by Kallis fans is that he could have performed even better, to a point where he would have easily trumped the other big names, had he not had the added responsibility of his heavy-handed pace bowling assaulting his body and mind. It is, however, an alternate story impossible to be authored definitively. All we can base our judgement on is how he actually performed. And that happens to be pretty darn well.
So then, what is my conclusion? Is Kallis on a par with the likes of Tendulkar, Ponting and Lara? Statistically – most certainly. The foursome possess stats similar enough that judgement of their rankings within the group is, and forever will be, incredibly subjective. A boring cricketer like Kallis, therefore, will always get the short end of the stick in these debates.
The man has learnt to embrace it. A more humble cricketer would be hard to find, and it all fits perfectly. Kallis will remain the unsung legend of his generation – for now. His true worth will be realised when he is gone from Test cricket.
He entertains minimal glitz or glamour comments from the majority of fans now while his career is still ongoing. And that’s just how the big man likes it.