South Africa has earned a dubious reputation of crumbling under pressure on many occasions © Getty Images


By Dileep V


The Oxford Dictionary defines choking in sports as ‘failing to perform at a crucial point of a game or contest as a result of nervousness’


The South African cricket team seems to have mastered the term, so much so that cricket writers of the game prefer to call it the ‘C word’. One watched in horror as South Africa gave a new meaning to choking against England in the ongoing World Cup. And it wasn’t even a crunch match.


A flashback into some of South Africa’s infamous chokes:


1. vs India, Hero Cup Semi-finals, Kolkata, November 24, 1993


The South Africans had bowled out India for 195 and looked set to chase a small total. The game went into the final over, in which South Africa needed six runs for victory. They had two wickets, including Brian McMillan at the crease. Following a protracted mid-field discussion among the seniors in the Indian side, Sachin Tendulkar showed the big heart to bowl the high-pressure over. An attempted second run of the first ball off the over resulted in Fanie de Villiers getting run out. Tendulkar bowled three successive dot balls to Allan Donald as tension began to creep – in the middle and in the stands. Donald got a single off the penultimate delivery to leave McMillan to hit a four for victory. Big Mac swung the last ball, but only to get a single leaving Tendulkar, the Indian team and the entire nation in ecstasy. Tendulkar conceded just three runs and India won by three runs!


2. vs West Indies, Wills World Cup Quarter-finals, Karachi, March 11, 1996


South Africa had won all their five group matches in clinical fashion and were favourites to beat a West Indies side, which had lost to unpretentious Kenya. A century by Brian Lara set up a challenging total of 264. After being in a comfortable position of 140 for two and requiring another 125 runs, South Africa fell in a heap to the spin combine of Roger Harper and part-time bowler Jimmy Adams – 19 short of the target.


3. vs India, Titan Cup Final, Mumbai, November 6, 1996


For sheer excitement this wasn’t anywhere close to the other matches mentioned in the list. But it did have one common thing – cold blooded in the group games and shaky in the final. South Africa had won all six matches in the group against India and Australia and faced off a struggling India in the final at Mumbai. That they restricted the opposition to 220 was no big surprise, but that they plummeted to 96 for seven was shocking. A brief rear guard action by Pat Symcox and Dave Richardson took them closer to the total. But in the end India ran home winners by 35 runs.


4. vs Australia, Carlton & United series finals, Sydney, January 26, 1998


That the C&U series in Australia was a best of three finals had no bearings on the psychology of the South Africans. After having won seven of the eight round robin matches and also the first of the three finals, they succumbed to the Australians to lose the trophy which was virtually in their hands. For a change they kept their cool and won the first final by six runs, but only to lose the next two by seven wickets and 14 runs respectively.


5. vs Australia, ICC World Cup semi-finals, Edgbaston, June 17, 1999


This was the mother of all chokes. Apart from a loss to Zimbabwe, South Africa strolled through the group stages. They had the chance to throw Australia out of the tournament, but they let them in only to be haunted in the semi. Chasing a seemingly achievable target of 214, South Africa huffed and puffed towards the target, with nine required off the last over and one wicket in hand. Lance Klusener pummeled two consecutive fours off Damien Fleming to level the scores. One run was all that was required and South Africa had off four balls to get that. They had a scare in the next ball when Allan Donald was almost run out. They should have learnt their lessons – but they didn’t. The next ball saw a mix-up between Klusener and Donald, which resulted in Donald stranded. The tie meant that South Africa, for the third World Cup in a row, failed to reach the final despite making a strong run in the early stages. This is the match where the legend of the “C word” was born.


6. vs India, ICC Knockout Semi-finals, Nairobi, October 13, 2000


After having won the quarter-finals against England without much noise, South Africa ran into an inspired India led by Sourav Ganguly. South Africa were tournament favourites, but found themselves under pressure to chase India’s mammoth 295. They fell apart. This match will haunt South Africa for long, as apart from Ganguly (141*) none of the Indian batsmen really got going.


7. vs India, ICC Champions Trophy Semi-finals, Colombo, September 25, 2002


This match had to been seen to believe the events that unfolded. India had set South Africa a decent target of 262. South Africa were cruising at 192 for one, when centurion Herschelle Gibbs retired hurt after suffering cramps in both hands. South Africa needed 70 runs from 14 overs – not a big ask considering they were coasting and had eight more batsmen to come. But South Africa scored only 60 came off the last 14 overs to choke yet again.


8. vs Sri Lanka, ICC World Cup, Durban, March 3, 2003


If the exit in 1992 was unfortunate and 1999 heartbreaking, then the loss in the 2003 World Cup in their own backyard can only be termed foolhardy. Marvan Attapattu’s century had taken Sri Lanka to a defendable 268. Late in the South African innings, rain made an appearance and it boiled down to D/L method and run rate. When Mark Boucher hit the penultimate ball of the 45th over for a six, he pumped his fist thinking that the mission was accomplished and South Africa were through to the next round. He defended the next ball, only to be told later on that the match has tied and that the South Africans had miscalculated. This time they choked in the dressing room. No excuses.


9. vs Australia, ICC World Cup Semi-finals, St Lucia, April 25, 2007


This match was a choke of different kind. Here they collapsed batting first, to underline the widespread belief that they can’t handle pressure at important junctures in a big tournament. What was billed as a classic turned out to be a dour encounter as South Africa lost the plot in the first 10 overs to be reduced to 27 for five. They ended up scoring 149, Australia chased it under 32 overs and South Africa had exited at the semi-final stage of the World Cup for the 3rd time.


10. vs England, ICC Champions Trophy, Centurion, September 27, 2009


South Africa, the hosts, had lost to Sri Lanka in the opening match. A win against New Zealand bought them back into the game, but they had to win the final group match against England to qualify for the semi-finals. England responded on the occasion with a hefty 323, aided by Owais Shah’s 98. South Africa started aggressively with captain Graeme Smith in fine form. At the half way mark, they were at 137 for two. But they lost Jean Paul Duminy and Mark Boucher in quick succession to be reduced to 230 for five in the 41st over. Smith was fighting a lone battle at one end. Once he departed after scoring a hundred, South Africa predictably slipped and lost by 22 runs and exited a global tournament on home soil – yet again.


(Dileep.V is a Scouser fan, Sports freak, Movie buff, Laggard Quizzer and dreams of setting foot on Anfield one day)