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Kirsten accepts that South Africa choked

ESPNcricinfo staff
June 19, 2013 « Live County Championship coverage | Chartbeat test »

In his final act as South Africa coach, Gary Kirsten did not shy away from the team's uncomfortable history of failing at pressure stages in major events, accepting they "choked" against England, a term he called "horrible", and that it does not reflect well on his time as coach.

The word has been associated with South Africa since the 1999 World Cup when they fell at the semi-final stage in an agonising tie against Australia. It was the same hurdle that proved too much this time as they were thrashed by seven wickets at The Oval, having crashed to 80 for 8 on their way to 175.

Before the match, AB de Villiers spoke of it being a chance to shed the tag which has haunted them for more than a decade but instead the outgoing coach has ensured it will remain firmly associated with them until at least the 2015 World Cup.

"I think we did choke in the game," Kirsten said. "It's an uncomfortable word but you've got to make yourself comfortable with it. It's a horrible word, it does get used, we've spoken about it, we are open about it.

"We let ourselves down. You've got to accept that's what it is. They bowled exceptionally well but that doesn't mean your batting line-up should be 80 for 8.

"If we had the secret recipe to turn it around, we would certainly have packaged it and be selling it. We give it our best shot in our preparation, we try different things. It's definitely a dark mist that hangs over South African cricket in knockout events.

"At some point we are going to have to try and cross the line. It's going to require some real charisma, some real guts and glory to get over the line. It might not be pretty but at some point we are going to have to do it. It is an unfortunate thing. It's not for lack of trying. It does require an enormous amount of resilience, maybe certain types of individuals who can do it for us."

"These guys play really good cricket year after year. At some point, you need to cross the line because people will continue looking at you and saying you can't do it. I don't think as individuals they get emotionally hijacked because they play brilliantly for other teams. It will require some really tough individuals to overcome it."

Kirsten did not hold back during his press conference, where he attended instead of de Villiers, and admitted the team's lack of global one-day silverware did not show his tenure in a good light despite his achievements in the Test arena.

"We haven't improved, he said. "That's where the question mark needs to come over me so maybe it's not a bad thing I am leaving. As a coach you always want to take the team forward. There are some good signs. We are playing some good one-day cricket but in events of this nature, we haven't gone forward.

"We haven't been consistent. That's maybe because we've explored quite a lot of combinations over the last few years. We've broadened our base. When you play in important tournaments like this maybe you get exposed. We've given it our best shot to try and overcome it and we haven't."

Dale Steyn was forced to sit out the semi-final with a groin injury - following a side problem earlier in the tournament - which meant South Africa were missing four senior players; Jacques Kallis ruled himself out before the event, Graeme Smith pulled out due an ankle injury and Morne Morkel flew home after the first game.

When it was suggested that Kallis left a particularly large hole to fill, after his personal decision not to play the tournament, Kirsten said that the team could not rely on always having someone who is in the latter stage of his career.

"In high pressure games, you want your most experienced players," Kirsten said. "But at the same time they can have a lot of scarring from past events. South African cricket has got to move past Jacques Kallis.

"We've got to start finding other players, which I think we have. Our strength was our batting line-up and we focused our attention on the middle order. Bowling-wise, we've explored the talent. There is still more out there. At some point you need to find some stability."

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