We are not chokers, insists South African coach Simons

Published: Tuesday, February 11, 2003, 23:53 [IST]
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Potchefstroom: South African coach Eric Simons has denied his side loses its nerve when it comes to chasing runs in pressure situations despite losing the World Cup opener against the West Indies. Chasing its rivals formidable 278 for five, South Africa slumped to 160 for six before a spectacular half-century by Lance Klusener brought the hosts on the doorstep at Newlands on Sunday.

"There was no panic whatsoever," said Simons after a training session at the North West Stadium here ahead of Wednesday's next match against Kenya. "We had specific targets throughout the chase and we were ahead of those targets throughout. "We had budgeted for what we wanted to chase in the last 10 overs and we were there, but we just kept on losing soft wickets." In a similar run-chase during the World Cup semi-final four years ago, the South Africans choked at the last hurdle to hand Australia a tie and a place in the final.

South Africa's big target on Sunday was due to West Indian star Brian Lara's century and powerful hitting at the end of the innings by Ricardo Powell and Ramnaresh Sarwan. It exposed the South African attack for, except for Makhaya Ntini, all the other bowlers proved expensive. Veteran Allan Donald, playing his fourth World Cup, went for 54 runs in nine overs. "Understandably Allan wasn't that happy with his bowling and he came and had a chat with me about it afterwards," said Simons. "He knows there was no pattern to his bowling but he will work on it."

While admitting that losing the opening game of the World Cup was not ideal, Simons stressed that South Africa was far from being out of contention. "I suppose the loss was a bit of an anti-climax, but it really isn't all doom and gloom," he insisted. "I know it sounds clinched but we have to remain positive." Simons added that it was rare for any side to go through a tournament without dropping a match. "Maybe it's better that we started with a loss and not a bang, and just build up from there.

"It's probably better than starting with a bang and then limping off in the crucial stages." Simons can, at least, take heart from two outstanding performers on Sunday. Ntini bowled well, conceding just 37 runs in his 10 overs. The other was Klusener's return to his destructive best with 57 off 48 balls including five sixes. "Lance has been batting well in the nets so it wasn't a complete surprise when he took off like that," said Simons. "With him at the wicket there is always a chance."

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