The moment that changed the game – AB de Villiers dives in vain as MS Dhoni takes off the bails. Photo: @ICC via Twitter

LONDON – A horror movie that the enduring Proteas fan has seen far too often played out once again on Sunday, as South Africa once again crashed out of a tournament with a whimper.

This time, there was no late night heartbreak like Auckland 2015, nor the drama of Edgbaston 1999.

This time, the end was swift and sorry, a car-crash of a scene just down the road from Vauxhall station, thanks to a capitulation that started with the talisman falling short, and laid bare all of South Africa’s enduring inability to handle two simple words in a cricket match.

Must. Win.

“I can’t explain exactly what happens, it was just a very poor batting performance. We just unravelled as a side out there,” AB de Villiers lamented.

He wore the look of a man bereft of answers, despite some sincere commitments to stay calm when the going got tough.

As it turned out, their brains got so scrambled at The Oval on Sunday that they even forgot the first two words of the cricket vocabulary.

‘Yes’ and ‘no’ went missing in action, and three deeply embarrassing run-outs served as cannon-fodder for an audience that had come spoiling for a contest to remember.

One moment defined the match.

“I take full responsibility for AB’s run-out. That’s my fault,” Faf du Plessis puffed.

“Obviously he is a big player for us, and he was looking good and it was a crunch time in the game.”

Disaster struck the Proteas as Faf du Plessis and David Miller ended up at the same crease, with Miller dismissed. Photo: @ICC via Twitter

That much was true. Once De Villiers, looking assured and hungry for that definitive knock in a key clash, was gone, things immediately swung back to India.

“I suppose, after that moment, Dave came in and we discussed that it is extremely loud out there and difficult to hear each other, so the communication between the two of us was just for the next five overs, just play it as risk-free as possible.”

After those run-outs, the expected heavyweight bout turned out to be a David and Goliath affair. Sadly, this David forgot his stones back at the team hotel, and was simply bullied into submission by an Indian Goliath bayed on by a ravenous mob.

The Proteas turned into meek lambs at slaughter, committing cricket suicide and providing fresh evidence of their deeply embedded mental frailty.

It looks terminal now, but De Villiers refuses to give up the ghost.

Asked if he wanted to carry on as leader of these men, his answer was emphatic.


In that there was certainty, at least.

“Because I’m a good captain, and I can take this team forward,” he said when asked if he could go again.

Platitudes of “You’re too good to never win one” – international lingo for a Saffer’s “Ag, shame” – have become stale, and they may now be replaced by the question that sits heavily in every South African dressing-room at such events; will you ever win one?

“I still believe I can win a World Cup. That’s what I believe, and I love doing it. I know it’s hard to believe that now, but that is what I believe,” De Villiers maintained.

There is no cure, no magic pill to be guzzled in order to wipe away the fear. That fear is the biggest hurdle, that crippling fear of failing once more, of adding yet more fuel to the Protea fire of doom come crunch time.

Forget the margin of victory – eight wickets, the giant scoreboard said – because it was a canter as soon as the run-outs occurred. It was tournament déjà vu of the worst kind, men fluffing their lines on a grand stage.

Come tournament time, South Africa are unrecognisable, their individual brilliance dimmed by a collective dread that clouds all judgment.

The normally ebullient Quinton de Kock made the meekest half-century of his career, seemingly playing under instruction to not lose early wickets – and thus hand India the initiative.

By the time the Proteas tried to lift it, India were well into their work, diving for everything, snapping up half-chances, and securing dominance of every scrap.

So, there went the initiative theory.

There were no tears at the end, because the farce of a performance left every man and his dog cold.

Where there was sympathy before, now there is genuine pity at how extremely poor this excellent, but fragile team become at the mere suggestion of pressure.

They will go again, of course, after a fresh bout of contemplation.

“I’m not thinking about the next one now, we just need to get through this hurt now,” De Villiers sighed.

What must change?

“I don’t know. We’ve tried a few things, camps and psychologists. In my mind, that wasn’t the problem. It wasn’t a mental thing, we were just poor on the day,” he maintained.

He doesn’t know.

Who really does anymore?

Independent Media

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