South Africa and that old etiquette - 'We'll always carry that monkey on our backs', says Bavuma

South Africa and that old etiquette – ‘We’ll always carry that monkey on our backs’, says Bavuma

No, it wasn’t a dream. Early on Sunday morning, not even eight hours after the world champion Springboks were beaten by Ireland in Dublin, South Africans woke up to the news that their men’s cricket team had been kicked out of the T20 World Cup after a defeat against the Netherlands. Yes, it’s a nightmare.

What should have been a walk to the semi-finals, in what looked increasingly like South Africa’s tournament to win – despite the knock against Pakistan – has become what outgoing coach Mark Boucher has recognized to be “up there” (should it be “over there”?) with the worst of their major tournaments. Of course, there will be ifs and buts about the Zimbabwe washout, but victories over Bangladesh and India have prepared South Africa well. All they had to do was win this match, against a team everyone expected them to beat, to reach the knockouts. It was entirely in their hands and they groped and waded and finally let it slip.

“We have to blame ourselves,” said a “flushed” Boucher.

Later, his under-pressure captain Temba Bavuma echoed those thoughts. “It was all in our hands as a team,” he said. “We had the confidence, we had the belief. We had the form behind us. When it mattered, we just couldn’t do the trick.”

In situations like these, when a team that has historically failed in moments of pressure at World Cups to the point where everyone expects some strange coincidence to conspire against them, it is cruel to ask them to analyze why. It’s easier to let them sit with it and maybe privately yell about it, but that’s not how professional sports are organized. Viewers want answers, maybe even someone or something to blame, and post-mortems need to be written and released. So why, South Africa? What happened and when did it start?

“When we woke up,” Boucher said. “If you look at the way we started the game, our energies were low. Whether it’s because it’s a 10:30 game and times have been quite difficult…”

He stopped because, really. The early morning presented different challenges through the rebound and there will be questions over South Africa’s decision to play first, but they had a plan. “We experienced what this wicket plays early in the morning. The story was that the wicket was a bit cold and we decided to go in first with the extra seamer and bowl,” Boucher said. “We were looking to make some inroads into their first-rate first gates and we just didn’t play well enough.”

And this is where it will really hurt. Because South Africa’s attack, hailed as the best in the tournament thanks to its variety, was “overwhelmed”, as Boucher put it.

Only Anrich Nortje managed to beat the Dutch hitters for pace, Wayne Parnell couldn’t find a swing, Lungi Ngidi’s substitutions weren’t as effective as they were in other games and the tournament disappointing from Kagiso Rabada ended with a disappointing performance. Among frontline bowlers, he finished with the fewest wickets and the highest save rate.

“It was not the only surprise that happened in the tournament. There were very good teams that were beaten by the so-called inferior countries”

Mark Boucher

On the other hand, the Dutchman Brandon Glover dismissed Rilee Rossouw with the legcutter, for example, because the Dutch adapted better. “They interpreted the conditions very well and they adapted faster than us and they made it difficult for us,” Boucher said.

Still, a target of 159 was huntable, even by a South African formation carrying a captain who may have just regained some form. But South Africa failed to use the short, square border to their advantage while the Netherlands picked up well. Roelof van der Merwe’s catch to brush aside David Miller was one of the catches of the tournament and now only stings because van der Merwe is a South African, although it’s highly unlikely he was part of it. of this team.

“We didn’t play like we should have, but we didn’t hit like I thought we should have,” Boucher said. “The total that was put together for us was maybe a bit more than expected, but our batting unit could have chased. We deserved to be better as a team, but that didn’t happen. .”

Maybe that’s what South Africa needs to focus on: they felt they had earned the right to advance before they reached that stage. “If you had told us, we have the Netherlands to play to reach a semi-final and you have to beat them, we would have taken it,” admitted Boucher.

Chances are a lot of teams would have made this mistake if they had already gone through the toughest matches in their group and could see the knockouts beckoning. But if South Africa has learned the lesson, it is too late for this campaign.

For Boucher, who has held this role as a player and now as a coach, it’s about moving on and accepting that they will come home without a World Cup. It may be easier for him as he is leaving the team to play a role with the Mumbai Indians.

“That’s not the only upset that happened in the tournament,” he said. “In T20 cricket, you can get a bit off, one or two batters come off, create a bit of pressure, and it happens. There have been some really good teams that have been beaten by the so-called inferior countries.”

For players, it’s about coming to terms with the fact that another generation has been hurt and working quickly so the scars don’t set too deep. Just this week, Faf du Plessis and Dale Steyn opened up about how the 2015 semi-final loss took them almost a year to recover. South Africa cannot afford that, with the potential for more than 50 World Cup qualifiers looming in June and another World Cup less than 12 months away.

Boucher doesn’t think this group would be too affected even though “the more you don’t do well, it starts playing in your head”. And Bavuma suggested he would work to help new players recover quickly. “This [the chokers’ tag] will always be there, until we find ourselves in a situation where we come to a final. But there are things we could learn from it, especially the younger ones,” Bavuma said. “For someone like (Tristan) Stubbs or Marco Jansen, it’s up to them not to make same errors. Unfortunately, this label, we’re always going to carry this monkey on our backs.”

At least they don’t wear it alone anymore. When the sun rose over South Africa and the social media apps opened up, it was not anger that emerged, but a sense of resignation. It may be the same as the feeling that has settled in the locker room; the feeling that someone else has gotten away and that no one can do anything about it. “This team deserved to give themselves a better chance and that didn’t happen for us, which is very disappointing for me and all the guys in our dressing room,” Boucher said. And 60 million South Africans at home too.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo’s correspondent in South Africa

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