Six reasons why South Africa have the 'chokers' tag September 21, 2007

Suffocating on the big stage

Mathew Varghese
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Herschelle Gibbs suffers from cramps, as South Africa choke in Colombo © Getty Images
Lara bats them out
South Africa v West Indies, Quarter-final, 1996 World Cup

After their farcical exit in the 1992 World Cup, many fancied South Africa to go all the way in the next edition. South Africa had the momentum, winning ten consecutive ODIs, including five in the group stages of the tournament. West Indies had suffered an embarrassing loss against Kenya. On the day, though, Brian Lara dazzled with 111 off 94 deliveries as West Indies posted 264. With 118 runs on board for the loss of Gary Kirsten, the chase seemed on course but on a spin-friendly track, and with the South African batsmen vulnerable against spin, the wily Roger Harper and the part-time left-arm spin of Jimmy Adams accounted for seven wickets as the favourites fell short by 19 runs.

Stumbling block
South Africa v India, Final, Titan Cup, 1996

Same year, same subcontinental conditions, same situation, same result. South Africa had once again beaten the opposition - India and Australia - in the group stages. India batted first and, when they reached 220 for 7, even the thousands crammed into the Wankhede Stadium must have given up on the home team. However, the Indian bowlers put on a spirited display and South Africa were reeling at 96 for 7. Their batting depth came to the rescue as Pat Symcox - batting at number nine - and Dave Richardson got South Africa within 40 runs of the target. Venkatesh Prasad broke the stubborn partnership, before Man-of-the-Match Anil Kumble bagged the final two wickets to spin India to a 35-run victory.

Faltering at the final hurdle
South Africa v Australia, Finals, Carlton and United Series, 1999

South Africa were the bully that Australia could not beat at home in ODIs and the streak extended to five losses after South Africa edged home from an improbable situation in the first final. Australia needed 36 from 35 balls with six wickets in hand but Allan Donald was lethal at the death as South Africa took the lead with a six-run win. Steve Waugh, the Australian captain, had promoted Adam Gilchrist to the top of the order in the first final, and the move paid off in the second, with Gilchrist making his maiden ODI hundred as Australia easily chased down the target of 229. Fifties from Ricky Ponting and Steve Waugh helped Australia set South Africa a target of 248 in the third. The chase was shaky with wickets falling at regular intervals, and, despite a 42-ball 46 from Lance Kluseer, the visitors fell short by 13 runs.

Thrilling tie
South Africa v Australia, Semi-final, 1999 World Cup

A characteristic disciplined bowling display, led by Shaun Pollock's 5 for 36 and Allan Donald's 4 for 32, saw Australia bowled out for 213 off 49.2 overs. Shane Warne struck telling blows as South Africa stumbled to 61 for 4 from 21.2 overs. Jacques Kallis and Jonty Rhodes rebuilt the innings, but South Africa began to lose wickets in the final few overs. It came down to the last six balls, with nine runs to get, and one wicket remaining. Lance Klusener butchered the first two deliveries for four, and having scored 31 off 14 balls one run more didn't look a tough ask. The field was brought in, and on the next ball non-striker Allan Donald was nearly run out for backing up too far. The following delivery, Lance Klusener hit the ball past the bowler - not well-timed - and set off for a run. Donald was unsure whether to get back to his own end or run to the other, and Australia bagged a 'victorious' tie to go through to the final; Herschelle Gibbs' ears would have been buzzing with the "You've dropped the World Cup, mate" muttered by Steve Waugh during an earlier match that Australia won.

Mathematical miscalculation
South Africa v Sri Lanka, 2003 World Cup

One lesson that all concerned with the game learnt from this match: respect Duckworth/Lewis. The hosts had a chance to salvage a disastrous start to the tournament and needed 230 for 6 from 45 overs to win an interrupted game. The par score on the Duckworth-Lewis tables though must have had 229, the target passed on to Mark Boucher and Lance Klusener, the two batsmen at the crease. The South Africans overlooked the fine print - the D/L par score targets are to equal, or tie, the game, not to win it. Klusener blocked the last few deliveries, little knowing that his team would fall one short of qualifying for the next stage, the same case as in 1999.

The chase that led nowhere
South Africa v India, ICC Champions Trophy, 2002

India's score of 261 looked a little too low as South Africa cruised, riding on Herschelle Gibbs' 116. Unfortunately, cramps in both hands forced Gibbs to retire hurt in the 37th over and paved the way for yet another turnaround. With eight wickets in hand, 70 runs was no big deal, but the remaining batsmen appeared to be stuck in the moment, not realising runs were to be scored as well. South Africa finished their 50 overs ten runs adrift of India's total, Virender Sehwag's bowling at the death playing a supporting act in the 'choke' drill.