In ODI World Cup history, 1983-96 was the most open era. As many as six Test teams made it to the final in one edition or the other. Only one major team missed out on all the fun. New Zealand.
Then South Africa entered the fray in 1992 and joined New Zealand in never having reached a final. On the eve of the 2011 World Cup, both these chokers had never won a single knockout match in the World Cup.
The 2011 quarter-final was a god sent opportunity for both South Africa and New Zealand because they were facing off with each other. Now one was sure to shed the chokers tag. The venue was the Indian sub-continent, traditionally teeming with high scoring venues.
The Kiwis were never in it in the first innings losing wickets from the beginning to the end at 221-8 and fans must have thought that they had choked again: Especially when South Africa was at a commanding 108-2.
Then the Proteas reverse choked and were 172 all down. It was a full-strength South African team and of that Playing XI, seven are still in the World Cup 2015 squad. So while New Zealand shed its choker tag, the South Africa continued with the burden.
But the 2015 edition of the tournament has also reversed many jinxes. Indian and Pakistan beat South Africa for the first time. Bangladesh played in a knockout match for the first time. England didn’t make it to the Top 8 for the first time.
Then South Africa finally broke its jinx as it thrashed Sri Lanka in the quarter-finals. Now here’s the thing, even though both New Zealand and South Africa have shed one jinx, another one still remains.
Both have never won a semi-final match in the World Cup! New Zealand made it to the semis in the very first edition in 1975 and they crashed to 158 all down as the West Indies won with almost 20 overs to spare.
In the 1992 World Cup they played brilliant cricket to storm to the top of the league. In the semis, they set Pakistan a very competitive target of 263. The bowlers choked the Pakistani batsmen and at one stage Pakistan needed 123 off 90 balls which was a rarely achievable feat in those days.
Then Inzamam-ul-Haq hit a blistering 60 off 37 to take the match away from the Kiwis. New Zealand lost to Pakistan again in the 1999 semis and in 2007 it was the turn of Sri Lanka to thrash them at that stage.
In 2011, the Kiwis might have won their quarters, but they lost to the Lankans again in the semis for the second time in a row.
In 1992, the South Africa was undone by the silly rain rule. England made 252 in 45 overs. The Proteas still required 252 in 43 overs after reduced overs!
The 1999 semis were when they truly choked. Lance Klusener was 31 not out off 15 balls and in the form of his life in the tournament. He levelled scores with Australia and needed just one run off 4 balls.
All he had to do was connect in any one of those four balls. However he decided to take a non-existent single and a run out meant that South Africa lost all their wickets and the Aussies advanced because they had beaten them in the leagues.
In the 2007 semi-final the Proteas did not even put up a fight and crashed to 149 all down. The top order had made it 27-5 and only the tail gave them some respectability.
So now the two “quarter-final chokers” have shed their tags after the Battle of the Chokers in 2011.
Now we have the Battle of the Chokers II in 2015 where both will now want to shed their “semi-final chokers” tag.
Of course one must say that New Zealand start off as favourites. They have won 7/7 matches in a row and are in the form of their life. The most important thing is that the match is taking place in Auckland and the Kiwis will have the home advantage.
But in such matches all that may come to naught. Only one thing is clear. One team will continue to be called a choker. The other will make to its first final!The author is a Bengaluru-based journalist and blogger.
He blogs at http://sunilrajguru.com/