LONDON (Reuters) - Choke is a word which has haunted South African cricket for three decades but rather than shy away from it, departing coach Gary Kirsten has embraced the term in a bid to end their semi-final hoodoo.
Wednesday’s heavy Champions Trophy semi-final defeat by England at The Oval, where the Proteas could only score 175 all out in a seven-wicket defeat, was an eighth last-four loss out of nine played in major tournaments.
Kirsten, now leaving after two years to be replaced by Russell Domingo, did not offer any clear answers about their mental scars but pulled no punches in his assessment.
“We need to be honest with ourselves. I think we did choke the game. We have to accept what it is,” Kirsten told a news conference.
He said the “horrible word” had been used in team meetings in an effort to conquer the issue but it remained a “mist”.
“If we had a secret recipe to turn it around we would certainly have packaged it and be selling it,” added the 2011 World Cup winner as India coach.
“It’s going to require some really tough individuals to overcome it. I don’t know if I’ve left the team in a better state. Certainly we haven’t improved. Maybe it’s a good decision I‘m leaving,” he said smiling.
Kirsten played in their most famous choke in the 1999 World Cup semi against Australia when Allan Donald was needlessly run out with the scores tied, meaning the Baggy Greens went through.
Jacques Kallis was also in the team that day and the 37-year-old would have been in this Champions Trophy squad had he not withdrawn through personal reasons.
Kirsten hinted that Kallis’s one-day future was limited.
“In high-pressure games you want your more experienced players...but at the same time they are scarred by past experiences. South African cricket needs to move beyond Jacques Kallis,” he said.
Batsman Graeme Smith and pacemen Morne Morkel and Dale Steyn were also missing through injury as South Africa tried to broaden the base of their team to little effect.
England captain Alastair Cook disagreed with Kirsten and thought his side had won the right to meet India or Sri Lanka in Sunday’s final rather than South Africa throwing it away.
“I don’t think they choked, I think we played really well,” he said after Jonathan Trott’s 82 not out had led the home side’s chase to 179 for three.
“You are always trying to keep your foot on the throat.”
Steven Finn impressed after coming in for Tim Bresnan, whose partner gave birth to a boy, and James Tredwell again stood in for injured spinner Graeme Swann and took three for 19.
“It’s going to be a very tough selection call if Swanny is fit. It’s a good headache to have,” Cook added about both bowling spots as 2010 World Twenty20 champions England face their first 50-over tournament final since 2004.
“As kids you always grow up wanting to play finals. Finals can bring out the best in people.”
Editing by Ed Osmond