We are no chokers: Johan Botha

Don’t mention the ‘C’ word to any South African cricketer unless you want to choke on your words. There will be an exasperated intake of breath, a faraway look in the eyes and an expression of fervent denial. It’s probably the team’s worst kept secret, but they don’t like to be reminded of the ‘chokers’ tag, which has now followed the team since 1992, across eras and captains, through every major ICC tournament.
This time, too, there have been the usual protestations and defensive volleys, but they sound a tad believable. For one, the team sports an almost-new look from 2007, and rising to the occasion is something they are getting better at. Johan Botha, to many SA’s One-day captain-in-waiting and a limited but extremely resourceful player, too went through the wringer at the team’s nets here on Monday, two days before the team’s first Cup game against the West Indies. For a change, he started out with accepting past teams tended to choke.
“I think it (the tag) is overused by now,” he said, “You can say about past SA teams that they have choked, and they probably have. But the freshness that we have got in the squad now… the guys are free to play and do what they think, and the captain and the support staff back them.”
There’s no easy explanation for why SA choke. They’ve always had quality players, some of them even the best in the world, and they don’t seem to lack steel in tough situations. Yet, a mix of poor luck and awful judgment has ensured that they flatter to deceive. In 1992, a bizarre rain rule left them needing 22 off one ball and the jinx set in. In 1996 they swept everyone in their path and fell to West Indies in the quarters. A heartbreaking tie and complicated net run-rate equations saw the Aussies go through to the final in 1999. At home in 2003, Shaun Pollock lost his captaincy after a poor run. In 2007, it was the Aussies and the semis again. It hasn’t been just the World Cup either. Even in the Champions Trophy, the Windies, their first opponents here, have put paid to their hosts twice.”
“It’s quite interesting to say that only we are chokers,” said Botha, “Only the Australians have won the last three. The other teams have also not won it. So it can’t just be pointed at us. I know we have lost in tight situations but that could have happened with any team. Once we get over that hurdle, it will be perfect.”