Cricket Psychology: South Africa – Choking?

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Cricket PsychologyIt’s Sky Sports cricket analysis show The Verdict. The team are de-constructing the World Cup semi-final. Bob Willis is firmly of the view that this isn’t another South Africa World Cup choke that has cost them this tight match. But that victory belongs to New Zealand boldness and daring.

On the surface this is a reasonable analysis. But South Africa made a number of unfortunate contributions to this painful defeat. To be sure nothing on the scale of Allan Donald in 1999 or Shaun Pollock in 2003. But nevertheless it appeared that the shadow of history was upon their shoulder, as they succumbed under New Zealand pressure.

In the penultimate over Grant Elliot skies Mornie Morkel to deep square leg. Under the catch is twelfth man Farhaan Behardien. When suddenly out of nowhere, crashing straight into him comes JP Duminy. The catch is spilled and Elliot goes onto the win the match for the New Zealand. What was Duminy thinking of?

Leading up to this match the South Africans gave the outward impression that they were ready to win the World Cup. Skipper AB De Villiers was leading fearlessly from the front. This looked like a new dawn in South African one day cricket. But choking comes when you least expect it. And always when the pressure is on.

Knowing the history of World Cup choking, you can imagine how keen the South African players would be to not let the team and nation down this time. Everybody woulld be concentrating very hard. Maybe too hard. But when you are so focused on not making a mistake, it can cause a loss of critical faculties. Subtle fears can narrow awareness.

Thus JP Duminy, instead of having all of his team-mates in his visual awareness, is so intensely focused that he can only see the visual details that relate to his position in the field.

His mental scanner that allows him to take in the position of team-mates has been shut down. The lack of critical big picture awareness then leads to him going for a catch that isn’t his. He doesn’t even see his team-mate. And the World Cup semi-final is lost.

You might ask if there is anything in their preparation that South Africa could have done, to avoid such a moment? The answer is yes. Because of their history of choking, there would be value in going through the numerous match situations, where the pressure would be at its greatest. And going through those scenarios in minute detail, so that everyone is very clear about how individually and collectively they intend to behave.

So – the pressure is on…we are in the field…they need twenty off two overs…what do we need to be aware of? Or what are the known ways in which we might choke? And what ways have we not even thought of? Lets be ready for everything. Thus a big pressure moment comes, and everyone is tuned in and calm. Because it’s not a surprise.

You would imagine that eventually a team as good as South Africa will breakthrough and will the World Cup. But each painful loss reinforces the negative memories, and so makes it harder for each subsequent group to overcome the past.