Special Report By Debashis Datta (For The SAMAYA)
Well, their history of choking under pressure in big matches in the World Cup forces the critics to tag such a humiliating tagline with them.
The first time, they were purely unlucky, though.
It was in 1992 when they reached the semifinal on their debut and they had to play England. It reached a point when they had to make 22 off 13 deliveries to reach the final. Brian McMillan (20) and Dave Richardson (13) were at the crease. South Africans were cruising for the finals.
But, it rained! Two overs were deducted from the South African innings and Richie Benaud, the great Aussie cricketer’s Rain-Rule said, the target remained the same ie, South Africa would have to play one ball and make those 22 runs!
Under Kepler Wessels, the South Africans were not chokers, definitely. They were deprived by the rule then.
South Africans showed first sign of breaking under pressure. The Hansie Cronje led side were winning all the matches till they met West Indies in the quarter final. Brian Lara scored a brilliant hundred and the Proteas were set a target of 265 to go to the semifinal.
When Cronje was out, the score was 186/4. From there, they were all out to 245, losing the match by 19 runs. Roger Harper and Jimmy Adams spun the South Africans out of the World Cup.
They lost in the semifinals now! South Africa was playing against Australia. Lance Klusener was the man of the tournament that year, scoring at will and taking wickets. They needed only 214 to reach the finals after the Australians were all out for 213. Shaun Pollock, with 5/36, had given his batsmen a great chance to go to the final.
But, as usual, South African bantmen had made a mess again. Kallis and Rhodes tried their best but it was left for Klusener to did the rest. They needed a run to win the semifinal when Allan Donald, having seen Klusener hit the ball, ran towards the striker’s end without seeing how far the ball had travelled. He was run out and the match tied.
But since the Australians had beaten the South Africans in their Super Six match, Australians were declared winners by the ICC as per the rules. The most important thing is, there were two more deliveries left in the innings when Donald did the haraikiri !
That was probably the most depressing sight for the South African cricket. They were playing home. In their last group league match against Sri Lanka at Durban, they needed to win the match under Duckworth Lewis method to keep their chances of qualifying for the Super Six stage. But they lost the opportunity and the match ended in a tie, leaving a crying captain Shaun Pollock in the television screen! That was the time when the tag of Chokers was labeled to them.
Again they reached the semifinals and again they lost to Australia. But this time, too, they had no excuses at all. Batting first, they made 149 only. The Australians did not have any difficulty to reach the finals.
It was against the Black Caps in the quarter finals. New Zealand could make only 221. And in reply they were 108/2 at one stage. But from there they were all out to 172 only.
In 2015, they were the ultimate favourites. They said that they would not choke any more. But the results say that from 2013, they had lost 14 matches while chasing, winning only 9.
In the World Cup, too, they had faultered against India and Pakistan while chasing. Against India, it was a tough ask, but against Pakistan it was definitely gettable. But the Amlas and the de Villiers again showed their weakness while chasing in a big match.
Yes, they will be in the quarter finals, without any doubt. But can they successfully give away their chokers tag this time in the knockout?