JOHANNESBURG – Can you execute the very best of your skills, at the moment when the pressure is at its most acute?
There’s a big and boisterous crowd watching, many millions more doing the same via TV and online, the opposition is a talented one, that hadn’t last a T20 series the last 11 occasions they played, the match with a lot riding on it - so can you perform?
Andile Phehlukwayo knew the answer by the time he stood at the top of his mark at the Wanderers on Sunday night to start the final over with 15 runs to defend. He knew, because he’d been there before, admittedly not on as elevated a stage, but he knew, and he told his captain that and then he executed.
Full and straight, slower ball, knuckle ball, hard back of length delivery, yorker and yet another slower ball. Fifteen runs was more than enough for him.
“I always land up in those situations, I really enjoy them,” Phehlukwayo reflected afterwards. Pakistan needed 15 runs to tie the three match T20 series with South Africa on Sunday - they only got seven, four of which had come off the first ball.
But even that brilliant shot by Pakistan’s captain Shoaib Malik - a punishing straight drive - didn’t put Phehlukwayo off what he needed to do. His captain Dave Miller was more tense, but the soon-to-be 23-year-old all-rounder let his stand-in captain know: “Don’t worry, I got this.”
“At the Dolphins I was put into those positions a lot when Lance (Klusener) was there and so you learn to take responsibility and ownership,” said Phehlukwayo. Klusener, was Dolphins coach when Phehlukwayo made his breakthrough at the franchise as a teen, and he demanded that the kid confront the game when the pressure was at its most intense - with bat or with ball.
It’s been two-and-a-half years since Phehlukwayo made his debut against Ireland in Benoni.
“I’ve learned a lot; there are aspects of my game that need to improve. The player I was three years ago and the player I am now, I guess a lot of the mental stuff is different, or better.”
Phehlukwayo genuinely seems to thrive in the high pressure moments. He’s won games at franchise level by defending just seven runs in the last over; he and Miller were at the crease when South Africa claimed a series win against Australia at Kingsmead in just his fourth match for the Proteas; he was also batting alongside Heinrich Klaasen at the Wanderers last year in the Pink ODI, when the Proteas claimed their only win of that series against India. Both occasions were very tense.
“Every player wants to win big moments, it won’t always go your way, but the more often you are in those situations, the more you will get it right. If you train hard and get the basics right then more often than not it will go your way.”
It’s hard not to imagine a similar situation confronting South Africa at the World Cup later this year - and if/when it does, Phehlukwayo will be happy to take the reigns.
“It’s really crucial, those type of moments will happen in the World Cup ...
“It’s good when we win in these situations, to remember that feeling, but even if we don’t, we need to learn from that, get back in the dressing room and debate what went wrong or right.”@shockerhess