South Africa fell short of cracking the winning code in World Cup 2011, stumbling to New Zealand in the quarterfinals at Dhaka.

Graeme Smith’s squad inflicted the only defeat on hosts India in the league phase, chasing down a target of 221 runs at Nagpur only to fall at the first hurdle in the knockout stage. South African-born India coach Gary Kirsten went through mixed emotions, sadness at SA exit and relief for easing India’s way.

South Africans are passionate about cricket, have talented players coming up the ranks like India and looked a team in form. The Cape Town-based Kirsten, working behind the scenes to mould Team India into a winning unit, attempts to analyse the mystery of SA’s abrupt exits in World Cups. “South Africa are a great cricket team. They continue to perform well. Everyone seems to focus on one event and that’s the World Cup and the knock out stages.”

Kirsten said the middle-order let SA down in 2011 WC. “For me the most important thing in those games is to have a huge amount of experience in the middle order. I just felt that SA was a little bit short on that in this WC and probably was their undoing,” said the Indian coach. He winces at the ‘choker’ tag on the team by the media. “It’s tough for them to go through because you guys really spin it big time the ‘chokers’ thing. I understand opposition media using that, but what worries is when the SA media are putting it up there. It’s tough for an individual to deal with.”

The India coach feels SA’s best was not good enough in the quarterfinals. “I feel a little bit sad for them, but it was not a bad thing that they got knocked out early in the tournament,” said Kirsten, explaining the mixed emotions at Nagpur during the India-SA tie when national anthems of both nations were played. “South Africa is my home, but my heart was 100 per cent with the Indian team. It was my job and I certainly wanted India to be winning games, including against South Africa.”

Kirsten played 185 ODIs and 101 Test matches for SA and afterretirement in 2005, established an academy in Cape Town next year. The three-year assignment with Team India leading to WC 2011 was his first coaching assignment with a national squad.

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