Biff: SA will struggle to get rid of ‘choker’ tag

Former South Africa captain Graeme Smith says the Proteas will never escape the 'choker' tag they've been saddled with until they manage to win an ICC trophy, and says the player do get frustrated by it.

South Africa have repeatedly managed to reach the knock out stages of major tournaments, but have always faltered before reaching the final, despite often being favourites ahead of the tournament, hence the label.

But Smith, who captained the Proteas at the World Cup in 2007 and 2011, said there was a difference between playing badly on the day and throwing a match away from a winning position, and felt the former had been their problem.

Smith said on Cricinfo: "I just think we haven't played well in the knockout stages for whatever reason. We've either been beaten by a better team, haven't had the conditions right or have just let ourselves down.

"So I think it's a build-up of various things and unfortunately it's (the choker tag) something they'll never get rid of until we go on and win a tournament. We made some stupid mistakes."

When asked how the players reacted to the label, with the media and fans bringing out of the drawer repeatedly, he said it may contribute to the pressure the players feel, as it seems to be a label given only to the Proteas.

He added: "I think it's always been a light-hearted thing, but as an individual when you get to the knockout stage, the amount of times you get asked that question, the amount of times you read it, the amount of times people say it to you, whether it becomes an internal pressure… I don't know.

"It's something each individual player can own up to, it gets thrown down the South African team's throats in this tournament so often that you can't get away from it.

"It's about fronting up, it's about dealing with it, its about saying, "Look we haven't won a tournament yet, we haven't won a knockout game yet but it's about facing up and winning."

Biff did feel that this year could be the one for his former team-mates, especially with the might of AB de Villiers, Hashim Amla, and the middle order to call upon with the bat, as well as premier pace bowlers.

Smith said: "For us, when I look at this year, I feel like it's a good opportunity for many reasons – we have match-winners with both bat and ball, more than we've ever had in the top five. I think we've got a great top five. A lot of guys who can win with the bat.

"The key changes we have in this line up is that we've got attacking bowling, the one that can take wickets and we have an attacking spinner which is a big thing for a South African team.

"I think the challenges are going to be the allrounders and the middle order but I think outside that, conditions is huge for us.

"If you look at it, 90% of conditions played in sub-continental conditions and I think the challenge for us is, we've got an opportunity in Australia and New Zealand, conditions we've done well in, in the last two to three years and I think with the team we've got a good chance."