I Choke, You Choke, We All Choke

This post cross-published on HoldingWilley

In the last 20 years of international cricket South Africa have played 455 matches and lost 154 – a win record of 62.4%, marginally ahead of the ODI champs Australia. The rest of the test nations (excluding Zimbabwe and Bangladesh – not yet in the league despite the test status) have a winning ratio between 42-52%When you read the post , the basis for comparison is clear – it is between the No1 and No2 teams in ODI over the last 2 decades. From the day they made their debut, the South Africans have been among the best and only the second best to the Aussie team.

Post their debut in 1991,  we have seen 5 World Cup Tournaments, the 6th is on currently , 6 ICC Championship Knockout Tournaments and 3 T20 World Cups. Let’s  take the World Cup history first. SA reached the semis in 1992, 1999 and 2007. Quarters in 1996. Failed to make the super-six in 2003.

1992 – Fate real bad fate, bad-luck, cruel destiny – call it what you may. South Africa was undone by the awful rain-rule and is still living in the shadows of that dreadful loss to England. They have still not been able to reclaim what destiny took away from them 19 years ago.

1996 – A perfect group stage – won all the matches to top the group and play the lowest standing team of Group A. They lost  to the inconsistent West Indies by 19 runs. SA failed to chase 264 with a line-up comprising of Hudson, Kirsten, Cronje, Pollock, Cullinan, Rhodes, McMillan.

1999 – Twice they lost to the eventual champions Australia in two consecutive tightly fought matches. Twice!

In the super six match they had Aus reeling at 48/3 chasing 271 for win. Herschelle Gibbs pre-celebrated a catch and in return let Steve Waugh get to a century . Aus made it to the semis from the stage of being knocked-out of the tournament.

In the semis – Aus set SA a modest target of 213. Yet again SA  huffed and puffed to 198-9 in 48.4 overs. Klusner then struck 2 fours off Fleming’s last over to bring down the target to 1 run in 4 balls. And then Donald first turned down a single and later ran for a run he never would have in his wildest dreams. A win was needed, not a tie; to advance to the finals and SA had failed to get that 1 run and chase 213.

2003 – The most criminal thing a captain or the team management can do is to miscalculate the runs required to take you through to the next stage in a critical group match.  Rains set in against SL, Klusner struggled to get 1 of 8 balls, Mark Boucher got the 229th run of the 44.5 overs, punched his fist and defended the last ball of the 45th over. SA needed to be ahead of SL if D/L came into play – not a tie but to be ahead even by one run. They goofed up the the maths. In 1992 they were badly undone by the ridiculous rain-rule and here their poor mathematics skills undid them – they failed to make it to the Super Six stage.

2007 – They made a paltry 149 in the semis Vs Aus and lost by 7 wickets. They did not choke but failed to perform at the big stage yet again.

In 43 matches at WC –  they have lost 14; 6 of which have cost them a chance at a place in the WC final. They have not made it to the final of the WC even once. Post 91 – Aus got to 4 WC finals and won thrice. India got there in 2003, Pak won in 1992 and made it in 1999, SL won in 1996 and got there in 2007,  England made it there in 1992. The only test nations not to make it to the final since 1992 are NZ & WI.  SA’s record is nothing great in the ICC Championship Knockouts. 2 finals – Won the inaugural one in 1998 but lost the 2004 to WI who were going through their worst ODI slump. As for the T20 WC, they made it to the semis – once in 2009.

The reason they are called chokers is because they lose in the big tournament games that matter. They may have won many a bi-lateral and triangular series but they have failed at crucial junctures in the biggies despite being consistently rated No2 in the ODIs. And you can  throw the figures of India/Sl/Pakistan at me – but the point is that those teams have won atleast one or 2 major tournaments in the last 20 years and got to  the finals of the World Cup; as I said at the beginning – the comparison is with Australia.

SA have got to 2 finals among the major tournaments – 5 WCs, 6 ICC Championships and 3 T20 WC and Won Once. Once. That record is not something to be proud of, if you think you are the top team. If you accept that the big stage impacts you and look back at all the close matches that you should’ve won, but lost – you will admit there is a problem.

After seeing SA bowl out England for 171, I had tweeted that SA looks the most perfect team in this cup. A top-heavy batting order, undoubtedly the best bowling attack on display and with Tahir/Botha/Peterson to bowl in these conditions – it is perfect and the fielding is a notch above the rest. Clearly they look like the team to beat since India have a poor bowling attack and a slow fielding side, Pak is inconsistent, SL are struggling with the bat, Eng are not the best in the ODI format and Aus too are struggling to find their dominance back.

So tell me dear SA how do you lose to England after being 120/3 and having bowled them out for 171 England whose morale was down and out after the loss to Ireland? How? I think it’s time you acknowledged a problem and  checked in with a psychologist who will affirm that you do not choke and get awed in the big tournaments.

This loss has re-affirmed my faith that SA will never ever win on the big stage and here is a chance to prove me wrong; as I said before, this is your cup to lose South Africa and you are taking baby steps towards it with losses like that of today. So if you do manage to lose this tournament SA – here is a tagline you could do with for your team – “I Choke, You Choke, We All Choke”

There I’m done – Bring the brickbats on!

(Image courtesy: tiptoptens.com – Google images)