World Cup 2015 – South Africa and their ‘deserving’ dilemma

One for the 'chokers' hall of fame

One for the ‘chokers’ hall of fame

The word ‘deserve’ is the most used word on my timeline now. It always is whenever South Africa crashes out of a mega event. However, if a ‘top’ side fails to make the final cut for any big event for 20 years, do they really deserve the ‘deserving’ tag? Doesn’t their misfiring at the big occasion scream loudly about their incompetence at handling pressure?

South Africa have more fans in India that in South Africa itself. Indians connect with the Proteas because just like them, most of us do a really good job at bottling up at the wrong moment.

We Indians, underrate our own cricket team. We call them lucky, we tag them as ‘flat-track bullies, we look down upon their success but with South Africa, every time they fail, we get ‘choked’ by emotions.

Over the years, South Africa have been a great side, make no mistake. The 1992 side didn’t ‘deserve’ their fate but from then on; the Proteas have pretty much brought failure onto themselves.

So, they ‘deserved’ to crash out every time, more so this year.

The Proteas came into the World Cup as firm favourites. Their batsmen were in prime condition and on bouncy pitches, their bowling was supposed to spit fire.

None happened.

It didn’t because they had an average side that wasn’t ready for the World Cup. They came to Australia riding back-to-back series wins against Zimbabwe and West Indies. Read again, Zimbabwe and West Indies.

They were found out immediately.

Zimbabwe gave them a scare in the first game but India and Pakistan took them to the cleaners. India outclassed them, while Pakistan left their famed batting in shambles.

However, a few easy games and a poor Sri Lanka got them to the semis. Then, they were found out again and hence, ‘deserved’ to go out of the World Cup.

The word ‘deserve’ is often over-used and abused. Let’s be clear, no one ‘deserves’ anything in this world. You achieve whatever you do because you’re good enough and not because you ‘deserved’ it. No one ‘deserves’ to win a lottery. Conversely, no one ‘deserves’ a plane crash. But the world doesn’t work that way.

Similarly in sports, the word ‘deserve’ has no place. It screams judgment and becomes a veil over glaring cracks that invites downfall.

South Africa have been a victim of this ‘deserve’ phenomenon. The Proteas are mighty talented with cricketing skills but at the international level, most teams are. The difference lies in handling the pressure and the men from the Rainbow Nation just can’t step up when it comes to the crunch.

They can’t because like most Indian fans, they also believe that they ‘deserve’ a World Cup in their cabinet. So every time they fail, they feel hard done by something or the other. Since the 1992 edition, the Proteas have been hard-wired to think that way.

Hence, they haven’t found a fix to their problem.

Every captain, from Hansie Cronje to AB de Villiers, has fought tooth and nail with the media to make them drop the ‘chokers’ tag but on-field nothing has changed. They have ran between the wickets like mad men, dropped dolly catches, missed run outs and this time, with the match hanging in balance, their premier bowler chose to bowl length.

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Elliott or South Africa – Who deserved it more?

Today, they got their body language all wrong. Right after AB de Villiers missed the run out, the expression of – ‘Oh, no! Not again!’ – was evident on his face.

The whole team followed suit. It was a massive chance but then, they got two more. It felt that instead of staying in the present, they all crossed over into a zone, where their previous failures were being played out in front of them as a sepia tone montage. The result – Quinton de Kock fluffed an easy run out and the Farhan Behardien and JP Duminy made a mess of a top edge.

That’s what happens when you think you ‘deserve’ more. You lose perspective and it becomes a defence mechanism that stops you from being yourself. It puts a glass shield between you and the others. You can see them, run behind them, track them but you are never quite there.

Imagine what would have happened if the ‘de Villiers debacle’ didn’t boggle the Protea minds? Imagine what would have happened had the entire team believed that the only thing that mattered was the next ball?

Imagine what would have happened if South Africa would have enjoyed the moment instead of being too serious about it?

Ask Grant Elliott.

Before the World Cup began, I saw Elliott’s name over Jimmy Neesham and tweeted, Elliott didn’t ‘deserve’ a place in the Black Caps unit. Today, he has smashed my ‘deserving’ tweet over wide long on and into next week.

That’s the funny thing with ‘deserving’. The one who ‘deserves’ seizes the initiative, takes action and sucks up the hard parts. Even when the stakes are loaded against you, it’s about knowing that at the moment, no matter what happens, you’re enough.

Elliott knew he was enough for the Kiwis.

South Africa, as always, clung on to their ‘chokers’ tag and ‘deserving’ dilemma.

Mahela and Sanga – end of the most elegant duet

Mahela and Sanga - Partners-in-crime!

Mahela and Sanga – Partners-in-crime!

550 games and now it’s over. After adding 13,368 international runs, with 36 century stands and 62 digs of fifty or more, the most trusted partnership in cricket has finally been broken. With Sri Lanka crashing out of the World Cup, the curtains have been drawn on the ‘Sanga-Mahela’ show.

Not the ending they wanted but in today’s world, fairy tales are rare. They batted together for 293 times in international cricket. They dug Sri Lanka out of trouble on more than those 293 times. On Wednesday, they batted together again. They scratched, scraped, fought but failed. Their failure was ugly. The word ‘ugly’ has never been used as an adjective to describe a ‘Sanga-Mahela’ show.

At Sydney it was.

The world has hardly seen Sanga and Mahela struggle on a cricket pitch. They even walked back to the hut with grace and elegance. At Sydney, they struggled. They struggled to gauge the bounce, to master the pace, to manoeuvre the singles and to read Imran Tahir.

They struggled to score but they did it together.

Two men from a small island, born five months apart, became the world’s most respected cricketers, torch bearers of the sport and healed a wounded nation with their velvet-tipped willows.

They became the glue that held the Lankan middle order together for more than 15 years. They went on to become the greatest batsmen in the history of cricket, each scoring more than 10,000 Test and ODI runs. They tumbled milestones on the way and even added a record 624 runs against South Africa in 2006 — the highest partnership in Test cricket.

They did it with utmost ease and most importantly, they did it together.

However, those stats mean nothing and the 37-year-old duo cannot be judged with mere cricketing achievements.

They were survivors.

Growing up in a hostile country, they witnessed war as five-year-olds. They survived a 26-year-long conflict between Tamil separatists and the Sri Lankan army that killed over 80,000 people.

They witnessed devastation again in 2009 when a group of armed gunmen attacked the Sri Lankan cricket team bus in Lahore. The policemen escorting the bus were killed, while several players suffered physical injuries. Mahela was the skipper then and Sanga was his deputy. They themselves had injuries but shielded the team like war veterans.

As usual, they did it together.

Not only off-the-field, Mahela and Sanga were tough nuts to break on-field as well. They might have had the reputations of being statesmen cricketers but when the time came, Mahela had no qualms about refusing a handshake while Sanga taught Shehzad a lesson or two.

Though similar in nature but as cricketers, Mahela and Sanga were a study in contrast. Mahela, the right-hander, was all about elegance — a natural stroke-maker, who believed in the theory of playing it straight and playing it late. His batting was a free soul that painted the canvas with the colours it loved. The drives through cover and the whipping flicks past mid-wicket were hallmarks of a master artist, while the cut behind point, played at the last possible moment when the ball was almost in the keeper’s gloves, was the personification of languid grace.

Sanga, the lefty, had to work harder for his runs. Technically more stoic, Sanga put the science into Mahela’s artistry. He devised the mathematical model to Mahela’s theoretical works. His batting evolved with hard work and his ‘going-down-on-one-knee’ cover drive was a result of long practice sessions. A severe cutter and puller of the ball, Sanga was better against pace and hence, boasts of a much greater record outside the subcontinent.

They were poles apart technically but it worked for Sri Lanka. Batting at three and four, they tore apart bowling attacks and became pillars upon which the foundation of every Lankan innings was built. They fought battle on the cricket ground and won wars for a country stricken with poverty, war, corruption and natural calamity.

Needless to say, they did it together.

They failed in four ICC limited over finals but tasted glory together when Sanga led his men to a six-wicket victory over India to win the World Twenty20 in Bangladesh, last year.

They wanted to do it again in Australia. Mahela got the first hundred; Sanga got back-to-back-to-back-to-back hundreds. The team didn’t have enough fire power but it had Sanga and Mahela.

Then, Sydney happened.

Star Sports has played the re-runs of Sri Lanka’s defeat against South Africa in the quarter-finals of the World Cup thrice already. Pathetic batting, impotent bowling, South Africa breaking their knockout jinx —  nothing has stuck except a special moment. Quinton de Kock slapped a boundary through the covers. Sanga hung his head, nodded a couple of times and looked up with a faint smile on his face. Mahela, standing at cover, threw his head back in despair and looked back at his trusted partner-in-crime.

Their stares echoed the same story — it’s all over mate!