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Gary Kirsten: South Africa still need to address ‘choking’ issue

by Wisden Staff 1 minute read

Gary Kirsten, the former South Africa player and coach, has addressed the infamous choking problem that plagues the cricket team in big tournaments, saying unless the team comes to terms with it, they won’t be able to move on from it.

There have been a few instances over the years of South Africa falling short at the big moments, including in Kirsten’s time as coach in 2013, when they were rolled over by England in the semi-final of the Champions Trophy, being reduced to 80-8 in 23 overs.

After that loss, Kirsten was open about South Africa’s choking problem, admitting they had let the occasion get to them, but he said not everyone in the South Africa side agreed with him doing that.

“One or two players did approach me about that afterwards,” he told the Following On Cricket podcast. “But I mean, it didn’t take a fool to see what was going on. I’ve always maintained [that], certainly [in] my journey with the one-day team, less so in the Test team … our Test journey was very different to the one-day journey. Certainly, my two years that I was with the team [as coach], we were certainly very focused on becoming the No.1 Test team. The team was set up for that.

“The one-day journey was slightly different. We were bringing in a lot of young players at the time, we were two years away from the World Cup, after the Champions Trophy. One of the things I wanted to focus on in the one-day team was around big events. I wanted us to be real as people and as brutally honest as we could to each other around the history of these big events, and how we could overcome them.”

South Africa have, for long, bristled at the ‘chokers’ tag that gets put on them at big tournaments, but Kirsten admitted it was a problem. “Prior to that [Champions Trophy] semi-final, we spoke into that space,” he said.

“We were open and direct about the challenges that we got in these big games, to the point where I stood up and said to the team, ‘Unless we actually acknowledge that we’re actually choking, we’re not going to move forward as a group’. And I was met with … not resistance in a tangible way, but I could see there was resistance, people were scared to go there.

“[It has always been] it’s not an issue, let’s move on, play the game as we need to, play in the moment. I have always been from the school of thought that until you address the elephant in the room, it’s going to stay there. So we, with the help of Paddy [Upton], tried to go down a bit of a journey, but we never got enough legs on it to really make some good progress. I think it still needs to be done, to be honest.”

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