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De Villiers confident the choking tag will become old news

March 17, 2015

SYDNEY (AP) — AB de Villiers has what he considers a simple solution to end more than two decades of World Cup heartache for South Africa’s cricket fans.

“All I can say is we’re not going to choke tomorrow,” de Villiers told a news conference on the eve of the World Cup quarterfinal against Sri Lanka. “We’re going to play a good game of cricket and come out on top. Simple”

The person who had posed the question didn’t even use the word, describing it only as “the tag.”

But de Villiers knew that was his cue.

South Africa hasn’t won a knockout game at the marquee event in the 50-over format, starting with an unfortunate loss in a rain-affected match at the Sydney Cricket Ground in 1992.

“We have to win tomorrow. That’s what it comes down to — no one is going to ask us if we played exceptional cricket when we win the World Cup,” he said. “We are just going to say that ‘we won the Cup.’ So we want to find a way to win the game tomorrow.”

Sri Lanka won the 1996 World Cup and has reached the final of the last two editions — losing to Australia in 2007 and to India in 2011.

Both teams won four and lost two games in the pool stage this time, with South Africa placing second in Pool B behind India while Sri Lanka placed third in Pool A after losses to co-hosts New Zealand and Australia.

The Sydney Cricket Ground showdown Wednesday is the first of four quarterfinals on consecutive days.

The South African took a day off practice Tuesday, with de Villiers thinking it was more important to be mentally fresh than anything else and suggesting that perhaps previous South Africa squads may have over-analyzed the situation.

“The guys are very aware of what’s happening and where we are at in this tournament. Part of the reason we took today off and spent some time in the park and had a good time and a laugh, felt each other out a little bit,” he said. “We know exactly what’s coming tomorrow. It’s a very important game, it’s exactly what we’ve been working for for the last two to three years. Comes down to tomorrow. We’re very prepared for this.

“Obviously there’s history to be made and if we come through it, it will be great. But we know it’s important to focus on the basics, to do a few things right and all our focus will be on that.”

Sri Lanka captain Angelo Mathews was cautious when asked if South Africa’s failure to win a knockout match to date would play into his hands.

“The history, it’s history. You can’t really take anything from it, and you’ve got to move on and look forward to the games that you play,” he said. “Statistics I don’t really bother (about). We have to go out there and perform well to beat the South Africans.”

De Villiers hasn’t had a real batting failure during the tournament, and scored an unbeaten 162 against the West Indies in Sydney and 99 in the last group game against the United Arab Emirates. He said the losses to India and Pakistan were setbacks during the pool stage, but he was happy with how the team was positioned ahead of the knockout stage.

“I’m very comfortable with where the team is at — the form that everyone has shown,” he said. “I believe we play really good cricket when we’re mentally fresh, and we play those pressure situations so much better.”

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