IOL Sport editor Ashfak Mohamed. Photo: Expresso Show
IOL Sport editor Ashfak Mohamed. Photo: Expresso Show

Even when his team had effectively been knocked out of the tournament, Ottis Gibson refused to utter the ‘C word’.

Having watched his team lose to England, Bangladesh and India, as well as a no-result against the West Indies and a belated win over Afghanistan, the Proteas coach was at a loss for words when trying to work out what went wrong after New Zealand beat them by four wickets on Wednesday.

Instead of being honest and admitting that the Proteas had choked at the World Cup once again, all Gibson could up with was “hampered”. Yes, the ‘H word’.

“I can’t speak of past World Cups, but certainly in this World Cup, it seems like guys have been sort of hampered. That’s probably the only word that comes to mind at the moment,” Gibson told the media on Thursday.

“You saw the way we played in past series. We play very well in bilateral cricket. We won eight of 10 games before we came here. But we haven’t been able to do it here, and that’s something I need to sit down and work out.”

But that is something everybody who watches South African cricket knows. The Proteas almost always win their bilateral series.

The problem has always been the World Cup – something that the West Indian was brought in specifically to fix when replacing Russell Domingo in 2017.

Gibson was supposed to “work out” why that was before the tournament started, not after South Africa were virtually knocked out.

It’s all about handling the pressure of the event, and not “choking” in the big moments.

But the warning signs were there before Faf du Plessis and his team even landed in the UK. In a press conference during a Proteas camp in Cape Town, Gibson was reluctant to answer a question about the “choking” phenomenon at ICC events.

When asked about the 1999 Allan Donald-Lance Klusener run out and how the team would deal with being probed on it, Gibson replied: “You mean the thing that you just brought up now?

“We haven’t spoken about that. From what I’ve seen, every year one of you (journalists) bring it up. And I was hoping that nobody was going to bring it up this year!

“We’ve had discussions around everything, and we’ve decided that we aren’t going to speak about it. So, when you ask about it, then… from me, it might be a ‘no comment’.”

Instead, Gibson went on about how the SA media “don’t say anything about the opposition” if the Proteas win a close game.

How could the players choose not to talk about the biggest stumbling block in South African cricket at World Cups – choking?

That just simply means that Gibson failed entirely in preparing the Proteas for the World Cup. We all know that the players who were picked can bat and bowl well.

They do it in bilateral series, and in franchise cricket like the IPL and Mzansi Super League.

To make matters even worse, Gibson went further on Thursday: “We’ve spoken that language of being positive and aggressive and taking the game forward for a long time. To see, when we come to this stage, guys go into their shell a bit, is a little bit surprising to be honest.”

How could the Proteas coach be surprised by South African cricketers going into their shell at a World Cup?

Apart from the pressure factor, series wins over Pakistan and Sri Lanka on home soil should hardly be confidence-boosters, as both those teams usually travel poorly.

The Proteas’ last formidable opposition in ODI cricket were Virat Kohli’s Indians in the 2017/18 season, which Gibson’s team lost 5-1 in South Africa. Yes, 5-1.

Proteas coach Ottis Gibson speaks to the media following the loss to New Zealand. Video: www.icc-cricket.com

There were just too many question marks around the batting line-up. Hashim Amla and Aiden Markram have battled in the 50-over arena, JP Duminy was injured for most of the build-up, and David Miller last scored above 50 with his hundred against Australia in November 2018.

Essentially, only Du Plessis, Quinton de Kock and Rassie van der Dussen were on form going into the tournament, and they were unable to carry the team by scoring hundreds in the UK.

So, as much as the Proteas cracked under the pressure during the tournament, bad planning and preparation were serious factors too.

If South Africa ever hope to lift the “World Cup curse”, they first need to acknowledge that there is one…

* Follow all the #CricketWorldCup action here.

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