Earlier on, I was talking to a South African about who I thought would win the World Cup. After discussing the chances of India, Sri Lanka, Australia and England, he wondered why I hadn't mentioned his Proteas.
As soon as he asked me, a look of panic came across his face. His brow filled suddenly with sweat, and his breaths became shallow and rapid. He knew the word I was about to come out with, even before I'd said it.
"Well... they're chokers".
Calling South Africa chokers has become such a stereotype. But a team don't get a reputation for something like that for no reason. But are a couple of occurences of choking a generation ago indicative of a nation's psyche?
Talking to other South Africans, the thinking is that for the first time in quite a few World Cups, there isn't much expected of the Proteas. With high hopes in '99, '03, and even in '07, pressure was high, and the South Africans notably didn't deal very well with it. The theory is that as much isn't hoped for of the South Africans, they won't be heavily burdened by the weight of expectation, and won't choke.
I was surprised when talking to the eminent Saffas that not much is expected from their boys. They're in the top couple of sides in the world, and they've just beaten India in a hard-fought series. For my money, they'll be "there or thereabouts". They'll (barring disaster) qualify easily from the groups, which puts them only one game away from a semi-final. While the team, supporters and management have been downplaying Protea chances, chances are they'll be again in a situation which they haven't deal with very well historically.
While the choking occured a couple of cricketing generations ago (and as such didn't feature many of this current outfit), the mental scars that remain still haunt this nation. While they undoutably have to be considered as winners, they'll only be able to lift the trophy if they overcome their biggest foes. Themselves.