World Cup 2011 March 26, 2011

A fast-acting, unHeimlichManoeuvrable choke

At the end of another tumultuous quarter-final in Dhaka, the floodlights went out and fireworks blasted themselves across the Mirpur skies
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At the end of another tumultuous quarter-final in Dhaka, the floodlights went out and fireworks blasted themselves across the Mirpur skies. The explosive din reached a crescendo, and then faded. Bangladesh’s role as World Cup co-hosts was at an end. Then, from the still-packed stands of the Shere Bangla, the supporters who had filled the stadium to watch South Africa and New Zealand struck up a chant: “Bangladesh, Bangladesh, Bangladesh, Bangladesh”.

So it continued for a minute or more, an outpouring of communal pride that touched the soul of cricket. Then a man took hold of the stadium public address system and started reeling off a thank-you list of the tournament sponsors, and normality reasserted itself.

But for that minute, watching and listening on the press box roof from where I had seen the tournament begin in glorious enthusiasm five weeks ago, it was an entrancing moment, moving and hopeful, for Bangladesh as a nation and for cricket as a sport. If the 2007 World Cup skated across the Caribbean leaving barely a trace of its passing, this one will surely leave a deep and lasting imprint on this country at least.

This, of course, will do little to lighten the mood this morning in South Africa. Both sides fluctuated between brilliance and flawlessness in the field, and both bowling attacks applied constricting pressure throughout. The game was decided by slight but fatal errors by Graeme Smith and Jacques Kallis, dismissed by a wide one and a long hop respectively, which prompted a three-ball brain melt in which JP Duminy self-immolated and Faf du Plessis momentarily forgot one of the two things I imagine he was thinking to himself as he walked to the wicket:

Thought 1: “I must try not to get myself out.” Thought 2: “Even more importantly than that, I absolutely must try my best not to run out AB de Villiers after he has just hit three sublime boundaries on a pitch where others have struggled to time the ball and two balls after our last experienced international batsman took an inopportune ride on board the Crazy Train, and bought a one-way single to Pavilion Central. Remember that, young Faf, and remember it well.”

South Africa’s patent Achilles heel, their elongated tail, was exposed, and New Zealand maintained ruthless pressure. Where India beat Australia with decisively good play, South Africa lost to New Zealand due to decisively bad play. Only Johan Botha was dismissed without batting error. The Kiwis closed out the victory through their own excellence, but the game turned on an outbreak of self-inflicted South African chaos. South Africa placed New Zealand’s hands on their own throat. New Zealand gleefully and clinically completed the strangle.

Smith’s men needed 4.5 per over for 25 overs with 8 wickets in hand, with one certified and one potential future greats of the game at the crease. Constricting bowling should not have been enough. If making pivotal errors of decision-making and execution at crucial stages constitutes a choke, then this was certifiably a choke. A fast-acting, quick-spluttering, unHeimlichManoeuvrable choke. And it was painful to watch, even as an Englishman.

● Jesse Ryder played the day’s most important innings with skill, power, restraint and determination, but the best strokeplay was unfurled by de Villiers. He hit four boundaries. The first was a simple on-side drive from a Woodcock full toss. The next two were shots of breathtaking execution and class. First, Oram bowled a good length ball that would have passed inches from the top of off-stump. De Villiers, with a break of the wrists, drove it just behind point at bullet speed.

Two overs later, Southee bowled another perfectly sound ball, heading towards middle stump on an acceptable length. This time, de Villiers leant forward, eased through an unhurried swing, and the ball hurtled between mid-off and extra-cover as if it was rushing home to check whether or not it had left its oven on. Four overs after this, he placed his magic bat in the path of another Southee delivery, full and straight, and within seconds the ball was having a cup of tea and a chinwag with the straight-long-on boundary and the sightscreen.

The next over, Duminy conked out, du Plessis called de Villiers for a single which was as well-advised as French kiss with a crocodile, and the game was decisively broken.

De Villiers could, perhaps would, have won the match for South Africa with merely competent support. Being chainsawed by his own team-mate was a definite procedural glitch. Or the greatest tactical howler in the history of sport. At least since plucky British boxer Micky ‘Bread-Fists’ Sprank tried to prevent Muhammad Ali landing an early knock-out punch by smashing himself on the head with a heavy-based frying pan in the opening seconds of round 1.

In my cricket-obsessed youth, whilst my contemporaries were reading valuable tomes from the library of teenage life (such as The Art Of Efficacious Flirting, and Drinking Lots And Falling Over – How To Simultaneously Cause And Mitigate Personal Embarrassments), I spent most of my time snout down in cricket books, truffling for statistics or insights into the history of the game which I played with such minimal distinction and in which I would go on to conclusively not represent my country.

I remember reading a description of Len Hutton’s batting, I think by John Arlott, in which the great Yorkshireman was described as seeming to have electricity in his forearms. At the time, I could not fully envisage what the writer meant by this. Watch those de Villiers boundaries. That is what he meant.

Andy Zaltzman is a stand-up comedian, a regular on the BBC Radio 4, and a writer

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • fanedlive on March 29, 2011, 10:49 GMT

    The problem with SA is that they are too calculating. They place too much emphasis on planning and preparation. All the preparation in the world is not gonna help in those situations! You need the fighting spirit. In many ways SA need take a leaf out of teams like Pakistan who are in many ways SA's opposite. They play the game with passion and fight. This means they are sometimes unpredictable but SA are on the other extreme they will beat everyone before the crunch games then choke. The one big match player for SA recently has been Gibbs. But they dropped him because he goes against the grain of the SA approach. He is aggressive and unpredictable. SA want consistency. Who was at the helm of the SA chase in the greatest pressure cooker match? the 438 game? It was Gibbs who made 175. SA need to balance their professionalism and consistency with a bit of aggression and free strokeplay like the "tournament teams" (India, Aus, Pak, SL)

  • fanedlive on March 29, 2011, 3:09 GMT

    French kiss with Crocodile?..........AB should read it...very funny ..by d way you just forget NZ fielding...should write something on them...

  • fanedlive on March 28, 2011, 21:28 GMT

    Marvellous piece, loved it! Hopefully my Proteas team will read it as well, have a laugh and move on.

  • fanedlive on March 28, 2011, 9:47 GMT

    Now the mindless like Andy will start to invoke the chokers theory all over again. I said it before the WC started; the side that will win the cup will need both skills and luck. Without the latter, its vertually impossible. I would say that if S.A choked, then that contributed ONLY 30% to the result. Amla's dismissal was the most FREAKY in any WC and for it to happen in a crunch Quater-final game was just too unfair to S.A. Duminy's one was a poor shot, but it kept very low; Kallis was unlucky to be caught from one that seemed to be sailing for 6. I could go on and on, the toss was also crucial etc. But all that, just like saying that it was S.A that choked would be taking the credit away from the Kiwis who were obviously awesome! Flawless fielding, coupled with AMAZING luck, was what sealed it in the end. S.A definitely, and rightly so, will not attribute the loss to bad luck because they are talented enough to have defied all those odds. In reality, fate was too good:)

  • fanedlive on March 28, 2011, 2:59 GMT

    What was telling to me was how Graham Smith talked about one day achieving the world they "deserved". You don't deserve the world cup, you win the world cup.

  • fanedlive on March 28, 2011, 0:08 GMT

    Being in a time zone that makes the World cup a real commitment to watch I have to say after the India Aus game and then the SAF NZ game the investment was well worth it. Sitting in my living room at 4:00AM watching the Saffas self distruct was tremendous. It was as though as a team they had reached an almost unbearable level of pressure, similar to the first fumblings of a young man trying to remove a ladies Bra strap with one hand. Chin up SAF fans there will be some heads rolling for leaving such a weak middle order. I raised the eyebrows when Boucher and Albie Morkel were left out upon reading through the squads pre tournament. I guess as a Rugby fan in NZ we well know by now you cannot afford to leave that kind of experience at home(especially Boucher) in the big games. Go the Kiwis!!

  • fanedlive on March 27, 2011, 21:50 GMT

    Did SA have to go into the match against NZ with a long tail. Not unless they felt their bowling attack would be exposed.

    Here are some things that left me scratching my head: 1. Why did Jacque Kallis only bowl 3 overs, when all that he had conceded was 6 runs? Unless injured, he should have taken up the overs given to Peterson and Duminy, who both conceded in excess of 4.50 runs per over with 1 wicket between them;

    2. Given that Ingram or van Wyk were not selcted to play, why did SA not consider opening with Robin Peterson and along with the either Amla or Smith, thus shoring up the middle order?

    I know that I will be accused of having the hindsight after the fact, but at the death matches almost always require creativity and "out of the box" thinking.

  • fanedlive on March 27, 2011, 21:01 GMT

    Hi This is hilarious. French kiss with Croc. I pity SA. They were well worthy of being in the final. However, the moment Amla was out, I predicted the great SA 'C'. Cheers. It will be India-Newzealand finals.

  • fanedlive on March 27, 2011, 16:41 GMT

    Now the mindless like Andy will start to invoke the chokers theory all over again. I said it before the WC started; the side that will win the cup will need both skills and luck. Without the latter, its vertually impossible. I would say that if S.A choked, then that contributed ONLY 30% to the result. Amla's dismissal was the most FREAKY in any WC and for it to happen in a crunch Quater-final game was just too unfair to S.A. Duminy's one was a poor shot, but it kept very low; Kallis was unlucky to be caught from one that seemed to be sailing for 6. I could go on and on, the toss was also crucial etc. But all that, just like saying that it was S.A that choked would be taking the credit away from the Kiwis who were obviously awesome! Flawless fielding, coupled with AMAZING luck, was what sealed it in the end. S.A definitely, and rightly so, will not attribute the loss to bad luck because they are talented enough to have defied all those odds. In reality, fate was too good:)

  • fanedlive on March 27, 2011, 16:39 GMT

    Kallis again proved in this WC that he is only a great test player not ODI player.................Sympathies for DeVilliers though.

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