London – Gary Kirsten minced no words at Wednesday’s Champions Trophy semi-final post-mortem. He was straight to the point: “I think we did choke again.”
If only his batsmen displayed such composure at the crease, instead of the limp-wristed effort at the Oval that saw England bundle them out for just 175, before the hosts completed a comfortable seven-wicket victory. For a man who hardly shows his emotion, the batting effort seemed to irk Kirsten a whole lot.
“I think we had better expectations of our performances, for sure. You know, to be blown away with the bat with the quality of batsmen we’ve got… is very disappointing. It’s not something that you would expect,” he said at his last post-match press conference as Proteas coach.
The former Test opener had indicated before the Champions Trophy that he will step down, with his assistant Russell Domingo taking over.
Kirsten, like many South Africa coaches before him, was at pains to explain South Africa’s dismal record at major ICC tournaments.
Wednesday’s seven-wicket defeat to England was the Proteas’ eighth consecutive loss in a knockout game, with the last win coming against the same side in a Champions Trophy quarter-final back in 2000.
“I don’t know the answers, to be honest with you. I can only tell you, yeah, we’ve given it our best shot to try to overcome it, and we haven’t. Whether it’s the semi-final, knockout games, I don’t think it’s only been semi-finals. We didn’t play well in the ICC World Twenty20 last year,” Kirsten said.
“So we certainly do what we can to arrive in the tournament really to do something. I had shared pretty good expectations going into the semi-final because I thought we were batting really well.
“As a batting unit, what do you do? Do you load your batting and try to put nine batsmen on the team, or do you back your batsmen you’ve backed all through the series and the guys that have been performing for you in other tournaments?
“The only way I can answer that is I don’t think there is any secret recipe. I just hope we can cross the line in one of these semi-final events and turn it around.”
Kirsten had to watch his team slump to 80/8 on Wednesday – unusual because the Proteas tend to battle, and overcome, every obstacle put in front of them in Test cricket.
The one-day side are largely inexperienced, without notable figures like Graeme Smith, Jacques Kallis, and in this tournament through injury, Morné Morkel and Dale Steyn, but Kirsten certainly would have loved to bring the team’s Test match culture with him to limited-overs cricket.
“I think if we had the secret recipe to turn it around, we’d certainly package it and be selling it. We certainly give it our best shot in our preparation. We try different things to go through and stuff like that. But, you know, it’s one of these things.
“It’s definitely a dark mist that hangs over South African cricket in knockout events. At some point we’re going to have to try to cross the line,” he said.
“It’s going to require some real charisma and some real batsmen to get over the line. It might not be pretty, but at some point we’re going to have to do it to get rid of this mess. It is an unfortunate thing. As I said, it's not through lack of trying to do what we can to try to lift that. But it does require an enormous amount of resilience, and maybe certain types of individuals that can do it for us.”
Kirsten did not hide behind the fact that the likes of Kallis were not there.
“In high-pressure games and pressurised environments, you want your most experienced players because they’re used to those situations, but at the same time, your experienced players can have a lot of scoring from past events. So it is a bit of a tough one. It would be nice to have Jacques Kallis here,” Kirsten said. “But South African cricket has to move past Jacques Kallis. He’s been around for 20 years and been an incredible servant to the game but we need to find other players.” – The Star