It seems that, after that fateful evening in 1999 when Alan (White Lightning) Donald showed the world how not to take a single, I was destined to write this article.
Picture me – a fresh-faced 11-year old standing (because this was no time for sitting) on the couch in front of the television. My found-again country, South Africa, were doing everything in their power to beat Australia in the semi-final of the Cricket World Cup in England. Or rather, Lance Klusener was doing everything in his power. The rest had fallen and he had only Donald, the last man and consummate tail-ender, for company. But somehow, they were making it happen. They were going to win and there was nothing the Ozzies could do about it.
Scores tied, three balls left with one run to get – Klusener calls a single.
I leapt off the couch and begged for them to make the run, tearing my hair out, my little heart bursting with excitement. They were about to run through to the final.
But then they didn’t.
What was Donald doing? He hesitated, went, hesitated again and then dropped his bat. Who drops their bat when taking a run? I’d never seen it before. It didn’t matter. ‘RUN!’, I screamed. But instead he went back for his bat. Why? He hadn’t needed it. He could have kept running without it and perhaps still have made it; he was White Lightning, after all. But we’ll never know because Donald lost his shit that day. He choked.
He choked hard.
The vision of Klusener running past Donald, never looking back, with his hero’s bandanna flapping forlornly behind him as if to signal the surrender of the Rainbow Nation, still haunts me.
Watch the video if you will – you can find it on YouTube. I dare not even link to it. Its bad mojo is too strong.
The Klusener/Donald memory forms only part of a montage of heart-broken, green-and-gold clad okes. That montage includes visions of Shaun Pollock (2003) with his head in his hands and Graeme Smith (2007, 2011) shaking his head in disbelief. I only learnt much later about SA’s 1992 World Cup fiasco in England, where Keppler Wessels and his men were left with 22 runs to get off 1 ball to progress to the final thanks to the Duckworth-Lewis method.
But these days, I have a new vision in my mind when I think of the Proteas fortunes at the World Cup. I see this man:
His name is Abraham Bejamin de Villiers and he’s only the best God-damn player in the wooorrrld [read Jeremy Clarkson’s voice]. If you consider me biased and want to challenge that statement, go ahead. But Gold help you.
The man can bat like no other.
If you stop reading here and watch that on repeat for the rest of the day, no hard feelings.
The man can field like no other.
Put that in your dijareedoo and blow it
And he can sing (?)
Besides his insane fielding ability, his batting accolades are truly staggering. He still holds the record for the most test innings without registering a duck and in ODI cricket, and he holds the record for the fastest 50 (16 balls), 100 (31 balls) and 150 (64 balls). In layman’s terms that translates to:
He fucks shit up on the regular.
If this were an ode to AB, I could go on forever. But it’s not, so I won’t. Paramount to his being the best cricketer in the world is his resistance to choking. So far, in pressure situations as captain, AB has more often than not played a captain’s knock. Even when South Africa capitulated against Pakistan in their second to last World Cup group stage match, AB was there with a quick-fire (slow-fire in his terms) 77 off 58. With a little more support from the batsmen around him, we’d have been talking about how he saved the game for us.
And that is the key. AB doesn’t choke. The way he is batting at the moment is so incredibly instinctive that it doesn’t allow for choking. It simply is. It’ll either come off or it won’t (it usually does).
More than that, I see a belief in AB that was lacking in his predecessors. Shaun Pollock, bless him, seemed too much of a nice guy to be a great captain. Graeme Smith has a fantastic record as captain, especially in tests. No one can take that away from him. And his steely resolve as an individual was something to behold. But at press conferences, while he could be gritty, he seemed to be saying we want to win, rather than we believe we will win.
AB is different. His English isn’t the best but I love hearing him talk. He transfers his intense belief in his own ability in to that of the team. Here’s what the captain fantastic said after the Pakistan game:
… we were shocking with the bat but we are still in a good position (with)in the group. I still believe we have the right group here to lift the trophy. That was a good enough wicket to chase that down and there is no reason we shouldn’t have done so.
The reason, AB, is that your boys choked.
Crucially though, AB confirmed his belief that the team can win the World Cup. When he says it, I believe it. And I reckon the squad does too. He’s the best player in the world, after all. And he’s been on one hell of a mission to destroy the opposition lately. Why wouldn’t you believe him?
Choking is inevitable
That’s the conclusion I’ve come to. And I’m at peace with it. South Africa will choke in the knockout stages. Whether it be in the upcoming quarter final against Sri Lanka or further along.
BUT, we have AB de Villiers. And that is something every other remaining team in the competition wishes they could say. They all have superstars but AB is the superstar; the one that shines the brightest; the one that can do things previously previously thought impossible; the one that can perform a figurative Heimlich manoeuvre on his team.
Choking doesn’t have to mean the end. When the choking begins and the #ProteaFire has all but been extinguished, I won’t panic. Why not? Because this time around, South Africa is being led by AB fucking de Villiers, that’s why.
I understand that the side is blessed with some wonderful players, some of them greats of the modern game in their own right – Dale Steyn and Hashim Amla are no slouches. But AB is the difference, both as a player and as a captain and he can win us the World Cup.
Maybe it’s just wishful thinking. Maybe this post is my way of trying to put some positive energy out in to the universe on behalf of my team. Who knows?
But whatever happens, come Wednesday at 5 am (SA time), I’ll be screaming my tits off for the men in green and gold, just like I did on that fateful night in 1999*.
*(except with beer and more swearing)