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World Cup 2011

South Africa learn to live with 'chokers' tag

Firdose Moonda

February 21, 2011

Comments: 38 | Text size: A | A

The reality of being a South African cricketer is that, for the foreseeable future, all of them will be asked about choking. On the eve of a major tournament, they can expect to be asked about it every day, which is exactly what's happened during their time in India so far.

For every match they lose in the competition, even if it not in the throes of a pressure situation, they'll be asked. For every match they win, even if victory is achieved by romping through their opposition, they'll be asked. Even if they go on to win the whole tournament, they'll still be asked. It's their own enthusiastic puppy dog that's going to follow them around and yap at their heels no matter what they do to throw it off.

It was Johan Botha's turn to try today. "People say that previous World Cup sides choked and maybe they did but sometimes you are going to lose the big matches," he said, mildly shooing the puppy away with a flick of his boot. It didn't stop, it started yelping, bouncing excitedly, begging him for a little more attention. He relented. "The Aussies dominated for a long time, so the chokers thing isn't really fair. The same can be said for a lot of other teams. Australia have won it [the World Cup] for the last three times, which means that - like us - no other team won the tournament."

Of course the other teams are not like South Africa, because none of them have crashed out after two consecutive World Cup ties that forced them out of the competition, first when that disastrous run out in 1999 happened and then by failing to read a Duckworth-Lewis sheet correctly like in 2003, or because they allowed the England bowlers to keep them to 301 for 9 in chase of 323 after their captain took them to the brink like in the Champions Trophy in 2009. Those may have been the only instances of real choking, but every other tournament failure - and there have been many - get lumped under the same headline.

That's not going to change and the players seem to be learning that. They've realised that they may as well take the puppy in, raise him and turn him into a pet. At least then they'll have control over it. One example of them doing that is by talking about decreased expectation and, as though reading from a carefully planned press release, Botha just did that. "We realise that the expectation levels back home aren't maybe as high as they have been and for once we are not considered as one of the favourites, but that suits us. We only want to go about our business and reach the knock-out phase."

The other way of training the puppy is to talk about how different the team has become. A team where the word spin caused most of them to go into one, is now a team that embraces the concept in a bear hug. The spinners themselves finally feel as though they are being treated like part of the team. "In South Africa the spinners perform more of a holding role, to try and restrict the batsmen, but hopefully we can really come into our own over here," Botha said.

He even went as far as to suggest that all the frontline spinners that have come on tour may play in the same match. "It's something new and exciting to see so many spinners in the team. The three of us [Botha, Robin Peterson and Imran Tahir) have worked very hard to be in this position and there's always a chance that all of us could play together." It will be a breakthrough moment in South African cricket should that happen and Botha said given the right "conditions, the wicket and the opposition," all five spinners South Africa have brought tour may end up playing in the same match.

Even after first sweet-talking the puppy, then getting a little more firm with it and eventually trying to steer in a different direction, Botha was still being followed it by it. He was asked how South Africa can compare this tournament to the one in 1996 when they won all their group stage matches and then lost to the West Indies in the quarter-finals. Understandably, he had run out of things to say. "Hopefully things will turn around for us this time. You have to do well in the group matches and then win three knock-out games if you want to be the champion." At least his maths is up to scratch.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

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Comments: 38 
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Posted by Paul on (February 23, 2011, 7:17 GMT)

@ CaribbeanLionesse - I know you mention the last 15 years, but SA have won a Champions Trophy in 1998 and they won the Commonwealth Games in 1998 too - which was a mini World Cup really.

Posted by A. on (February 22, 2011, 21:23 GMT)

If you're as good as South Africa is and has been for the 15 years or so and you haven't won any hardware - not a WC, not a Champions Trophy, not a World T20 then you will be called chokers.

Especially if you lose in spectacular ways like the 1999 run-out debacle or the 2003 mess.

See? Good + never won a trophy + spectacular losses = chokers.

Kind of simple really. I mean for pity's sake, even the WI has managed to win a Champions Trophy and our team has been pretty abysmal for the last 15 years. South Africa needs to WIN SOMETHING ALREADY! And this will all be put to rest.

Posted by bikash on (February 22, 2011, 19:30 GMT)

@Seether1..NZ lost five semifinals,yes india lost two home SF and one final and yes england havent done anything,pak lost three SF and one final,but they r still not called as chokers but still they r not chokers,REASON?? reason is that these teams did'nt showed the ability and consistency which is associated with SA most of the time but when it comes to big event somehow these teams pulls off,pak & india both won odi & T20 WC out of nowhere,england r da current T20 WC,NZ always punch above their weight and thats good enough but what about SA,y is that they always lacks something very important in big events??well there's enough reason to justify their CHOKERS tag...but i wish that the team as good as SA deserve a world cup trophy and if they does that then chokers tag will disappear in the thin air..best of luck SA

Posted by Ashwin on (February 22, 2011, 19:20 GMT)

and WI have also pulled off some spectacular chokes. The 1996 semifinal where they collapsed from 165/2 in 41 overs to 202 all out and lost by 5 runs against Australia and then again against Australia in a tournament in Kuala Lumpur where they galloped to 172/1 in 24 overs chasing 280-odd and then incredibly were all out for 201.But yes they will still be a threat to SA on Thursday given their good record against SA in WCs and their allrounders.

Posted by Ashwin on (February 22, 2011, 19:07 GMT)

I thought SA had shed their chokers tag when they chased down 434 in that remarkable game.But I was proved wrong in subsequent ICC events. And some of their old habits were once again on display when they failed to chase 190 against India recently.Well SA would hope that the choking has been done away with before the WC and the fact that they are having an attacking spin bowler gives rise to hope that this WC could turn out differently for them.But then, there's the Cup opener against Windies which could be the banana-skin to trip them.I can't wait for that match.

Posted by Vikram on (February 22, 2011, 18:34 GMT)

shouldn't the title be Chokers learn to live with 'South Africa' tag? ;-)

Posted by g on (February 22, 2011, 17:43 GMT)

@spiritwithin, you are absolutely right in highlighting Zim of their fielding skills. Believe it or not, I was about to mention their name too in my prev post. While I agree about Zim I would still say it's Jonty who made everyone else stand up and take notice of fielding as a serious dimension in cricket. Coming to other famous chokes - WI in 83 final, another semifinal (96?), Aus (438 game!) & T20 semifinal in 2008 against India, Pak 99 WC, 96QF against India, T20 2010 SF...one can go on and on and on... The point is every team stumbles at times...and it is incorrect to tag any one team...

Posted by Ganesh on (February 22, 2011, 14:29 GMT)

@SurlyCynic: Well said ;)

Posted by Dru on (February 22, 2011, 13:59 GMT)

I think the choker tag is a result of having everything one could ever want to win a game along with attitude and then no winning it!!! For example no one calls the Kiwis chockers despite loosing so many semi-finals and actually only ever winning ONE multination series (I think) they dont come accross as the favorites and never have and neither do they come with the bullish attitude, which I must say is fine - all long as you win!! If you dont then get ready for the tags. SA always seemed to be a seriously talneted side but that never really resulted in silverware. I reckon this is their best chance yet.

Posted by Neriyan on (February 22, 2011, 13:35 GMT)

If SA are chokers then what do you call a team that has lost 2 home semi-finals as well as a WC final (Yes I am talking about India!)? And what about England? Except their recent succes in the T20 WC they have lost all other finals! Lets leave the past in the past. This SA team may not be as talented as previous SA teams but there is something different about them. They are made of sterner stuff!

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