South Africa hate to be called a bunch of chokers, a tag they can’t seem to shake off. Did anybody see that loss to the Netherlands coming in the T20 World Cup? It was dismissed as an unlikely event that doesn’t belong to the realm of glorious uncertainties in cricket. The Netherlands proved everyone wrong.
The only Dutch win in the Super 12 before Sunday was against Zimbabwe. That did wonders for their confidence. That was reflected in the Adelaide game as they took down mighty South Africa.
One of the pre-tournament favourites, South Africa, seemed to gain in strength as the tournament progressed, as evidenced by their win over India. That showcased their resilience, but the loss against Pakistan appears to have had a deep impact. For their clinical efficacy was missing against the Netherlands.
The spectre of past losses
It wasn’t even a crunch game. A narrow win would have been enough to stroll into the semifinals. Instead, they allowed the ghosts of past losses in big games to haunt them.
The South Africans have always been a strong team, following their return from the cricket wilderness after the end of apartheid. But in 50-over World Cups, they have stumbled at crucial junctures. Far too many times to acquire the dubious distinctions of chockers.
Remember the 1992 World Cup semifinal. Chasing England’s 253, South Africa needed 22 off 13 balls when rain halted the game. But when it resumed, they needed 21 off 1 ball according to the prevalent rain rule. You could say that wasn’t choke. Rain and rule book did them in.
But they did choke in the 1999 World Cup semifinals. After restricting to Australia 218, South Africa chased well to reduce the equation to 1 run off 4 balls. They couldn’t knock it off, and the match was tied, allowing Australia to advance.
The match is also memorable for Steve Waugh’s remark to Herschelle Gibbs, “You just dropped the World Cup”, when the South African fielder dropped the Australian captain.
Big matches continued to undermine them even on home ground. The 2003 World Cup group game against Sri Lanka was a must-win for South Africa. Chasing Duckworth-Lewis targets, Mark Boucher failed to score off the last ball, and the match was tied. Needless to say, the Proteas crashed out.
Adelaide horrow show
By now, South Africa had acquired a reputation for messing up crunch games. More evidence came in the 2011 World Cup semifinals. In pursuit of New Zealand’s 221, South Africa were motoring to an easy win before they collapsed to 172, with eight wickets falling for 64 runs.
Another episode was enacted four years later in the World Cup semifinal when South Africa failed to defend a strong 281. Blazing innings from Brendon McCullum and Grant Elliot scythed down the Proteas.
Now comes the Adelaide horror show. A win was all South Africa needed. First, their fearsome pace pack failed to restrict the Netherlands to under 150. And the chase of 158 never took off in the undercooked powerplay. The Dutch strangled the Proteas in the middle overs with some fine bowling backed by excellent fielding.
The result was a 13-run defeat and the latest chapter in South Africa’s ignominious exits.