Du Plessis: Winning a trophy will clear ‘chokers’ tag

Faf du Plessis, South Africa's middle-order batsman, admits that the 'chokers' label was justified, and that it will be erased if the team wins a trophy.

Faf du Plessis: 'We are ready and we are confident of our chances. If we play well, we will be there or thereabouts.'   -  Prashant Nakwe

The term ‘chokers’ is passé. Let’s call it the ‘World Cup Syndrome’.

Either way, you’ve got to feel for the South African team. It doesn’t matter where the tournament is being held or what kind of form they are in. Whenever a global event comes calling, the Proteas are at the centre of it all — trying to persuade fans and journalists that the team doesn’t even “talk about it”, “it’s about how you play on that day”, and “T20 is so quick that you don’t have time to think about anything else”.

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>Francois du Plessis put up a brave face at his pre-tournament press conference here on Friday, but you could sense the baggage he was carrying. He called it “monkey”. Any fan worth his salt would call it nothing less than a chimp. After all, the pain of a trophy-less cabinet has now entered its 24th year.

So, does he reckon that the ‘C’ tag is uncharitable? Surprisingly enough, he thinks it’s only “fair”. “The only way you’ll get that monkey off the back is by winning a trophy. In T20, there is no time to think about this. The only time people will stop asking that question is when we win a trophy,” du Plessis said as a matter of fact.

Fresh off a high-octane series against Australia at home, the 31-year-old batsman seemed at home even though the Proteas had touched down in the city only a few hours earlier. “Players of this era are quick to adapt. For us, the conditions in India are no longer ‘foreign’ because of the IPL. We have played some good cricket in these conditions. We lost to Australia last night (Wednesday, actually). And it feels like just a few hours ago (smiles). We are ready and we are confident of our chances. If we play well, we will be there or thereabouts,” he said.

Balanced squad

South Africa won the first match in Durban before going down narrowly in Johannesburg and Cape Town. Each game was a thriller, and went into the very last over, even the last ball (the second Twenty20). Slightly disappointed at being at the wrong end of the 2-1 scoreline, du Plessis chose to look at the positives. “I guess, in the series against Australia, all areas were covered. That’s why we changed the team every game. I feel this is the most balanced squad. Guys are competing to get into the first XI. Every single area is covered,” he explained.

Grouped with Sri Lanka, England, the West Indies and a qualifier, South Africa is blessed with an array of batsmen, bowlers and all-rounders tailor-made for this format. Just look at the names: AB de Villiers, Quinton de Kock, JP Duminy, Chris Morris, David Wiese and du Plessis himself. But the skipper believes no team goes into the event as a clear favourite.

“It is probably the most open World Cup. India will still be the favourite. Looking at its form and the way it has been playing, it looks great. But both pools are really open. There are no more easy games. We have seen that a countless number of times. Anyone can beat anyone on any day. You can’t call them that (minnows) anymore.”

South Africa had a gala time during the limited overs’ leg of its India tour last year. But the defeat in the Test series (on atrocious pitches nevertheless) did scar the team. And, du Plessis acknowledged as much. “Yes, we did carry those scars (of the Test series defeats in India) to the England series. We were lacking against England in the Test matches. That’s what happens when you suffer heavy defeats. But we played well against England (in the limited-overs series) and also against Australia. It’s out of our system now. Half the squad wasn’t even here for the Tests,” he said.

Towards the end of the interaction, du Plessis chose to keep things simple. “It’s about the basics. We need to do well under pressure situations. Against Australia, we lost a game off the last ball. We also bowled lots of wides and no-balls. Need to avoid those,” he said with a smile. Wonder what he was actually going through.