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Proteas coach proud of Bavuma, says defeat was ‘nothing remotely close to a choke’

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‘You need to define what a choke is. For me, a choke is losing a game that you’re in a position to win’ – Rob Walter, Proteas coach.

(left to right) South Africa captain Temba Bavuma, head coach Rob Walter and bowling coach Eric Simons attend a practice session. Picture: AFP

KOLKATA: Proteas coach Rob Walter brushed off any suggestions that his team had “choked” in their pulsating ICC World Cup semi-final defeat to Australia at Eden Gardens.

South African cricket has been living with the unwanted label since the tragic 1999 World Cup semi-final against the self-same Australia at Edgbaston.

Three further World Cup semi-finals later, and the Proteas have yet to rid themselves of the reputation for not being able to get over the line in high-pressure knock-out matches.

Walter was, however, adamant the three-wicket defeat on Thursday night had nothing to do with choking.

“You need to define what a choke is. For me, a choke is losing a game that you’re in a position to win,” he said.

“In this instance, we were behind the eight-ball right from the word go, and we actually fought our way back into the competition.

“So for me, there’s nothing even remotely close to a choke that happened out there. It was a serious contest between two good teams – number two and three in the tournament.”

The Proteas headed into the semi-final with a fitness cloud hanging over captain Temba Bavuma’s head.

The skipper was ultimately passed fit on the morning of the match, but failed to contribute with the bat after Mitchell Starc had him caught behind in the first over for a duck.

Bavuma also elected to bat after winning the toss under heavy cloud cover, which heavily assisted the Australian seam bowlers as they reduced South Africa to 24/4.

The right-handed batter has come in for heavy criticism from some quarters, especially as he has endured a lean run throughout the World Cup.

Walter was steadfast in his support for Bavuma, though, stating that the skipper has the full backing of the squad.

The coach and captain were also caught on camera having a moment of reflection after the semi-final.

“To be honest, even the commentators that I’ve spoken to, no one could predict how the pitch would play like that for the first 12 overs,” Walter said.

“And had it played as we expected it to, then we would have backed ourselves to get 270. And once we got 270, because it was turning – you saw how much it spun in the evening.

“We knew that that was going to be our end into the game, and ultimately, it was really so – we just didn’t have enough runs to work with.

“He (Bavuma) marshalled the troops unbelievably well to get the game close. I thought strategically, the way he operated along with obviously the senior heads around him on the field, the different pressures created through the field positions …

“I thought it was an excellent effort to defend that score, but beyond that, you know sometimes it’s not easy to walk through a tournament when you aren’t delivering yourself, but the batters around you are.

“But the important thing is that we operate as a unit. He was the lead man that got us into this tournament in the first place.

“I think people forget that, so I just wanted to make sure that he was aware of how important he is in this team, and how proud I am of his efforts and the way he led throughout.”

Walter also explained why Bavuma could not turn to his premier strike bowler Kagiso Rabada, who still had two overs left in the bank, when the Proteas were still chasing three wickets at the death.

“KG had a bruised heel – that’s why we didn’t see as much of him in the contest as we would have expected,” he said. “If you were watching him on the park, you would have seen him limping around. In his comeback spell that he bowled, he just wasn’t able to deliver at 100 percent. And obviously with that, it also led us into bringing (on) Aiden.

“It was a pity, but I don’t think it was a defining moment in the game, to be dead honest.

“But obviously a pity that we couldn’t call on him in the normal way.”

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