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 the 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 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.
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 car 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 ultimately invites the 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 run 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.
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 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.