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Why some teams can't keep the winning cycle going?

517   //    Timeless

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Not winning the World Cup despite all the resources continue to hunt South Africa

Teams that don't win very often, invariably don't know what to do when placed in a winning position. They freeze. They choke. As do teams that are so obsessed with the idea of winning that they grow tense and often start overthinking when a calm mind would have taken them home.

Maybe there is a story then behind South Africa's misadventures in the Word Cup. After a dramatic re-entry into international cricket in 1992, they have often found themselves in an winning position only to throw it away; never more obvious than in the dramatic 1999 World Cup semi-final when they had tied the score and needed only a single from four balls. First, Allan Donald charged out for a non-existent single and almost ran himself out and then Lance Klusener, who was hitting the ball wherever he wanted to, hit the ball and ran. Donald didn't. The two players froze, with victory waiting at their doorstep.

The fear of winning can sometimes be greater than the fear of losing. That is why winning a Test series against Australia in 2008 was seen as important by South Africa as winning the rugby World Cup on a dramatic night in 1995; the beast, which for so long was an annoying tenant, was finally off their back.

Yet, when it came to cricket World Cup events, the tenants inevitably reappeared. For a team with an outstanding percentage in bilateral series, they continued to chock in mega world events.

As a consequence, their obsession with getting results at times derailed the performance that could get them there in the first place.

We saw that in the World Cup of 2015 too when South Africa stormed through to the semi-finals before the familiar demons returned to choke them. New Zealand too played breathtaking, fearless cricket, all the way to the final and then, all of a sudden, seemed a different side. Maybe the fear of the big day had arrived for them too.

A young player growing up in that otherwise excellent South African side would have inherited the tension associated with winning on a big day.

On the other hand, a young man learning his trade in Australia's awesome teams through the mid-nineties and the first decade of the new millennium, would have seen how senior players were focused on winning. A young man like Michael Clarke, sharing the dressing room with the likes of Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath, Ponting, Adam Gilchrist would have learnt how to win and how to close matches, as part of his grooming in international cricket. 

An equally talented young man like Mohammed Ashraful of Bangladesh, growing up in a losing environment, could never have learnt the discipline of winning.

Self-belief is an essential aspect of development and if you are not winning, you'll never acquire it.