In the 2011 ODI World Cup eventual champions India lost just one match. And that happened to be South Africa. India put up a stiff target of 297 and the Proteas were 279-7 at one stage but still prevailed with 2 balls to go.
They comfortably topped the group. In the quarters they faced another “choke” team in the form of New Zealand which also had never won a World Cup knockout match. The South Africans were the favourites in this battle of chokers.
The Kiwis were restricted to 221-8 in 50 overs and South Africa was coasting at 108-2 at one stage. From there they simply crashed to 172 all out in a performance that defied logic. How the likes of Hashim Amla, Graeme Smith, Jacques Kallis, AB de Villiers, JP Duminy and Faf du Plessis couldn’t cross the line on that day is a mystery.
The advent of the T20 World Cup also didn’t change anything. They reached two semi-finals and lost both of them. In fact the other ODI World Cup finals choker England (they lost in 1975, 1987 and 1992) also managed to win the T20 World Cup in 2010.
But South Africa probably remains the greatest team ever not to have won a world cup. They came into the 2015 edition as one of the favourites. Hashim Amla is on course to break Sachin Tendulkar’s record of most ODI centuries and de Villiers is in the form of his life. Dale Steyn continues to be one of the most formidable fast bowlers in the tournament.
While South Africa will still easily make it to the quarter-finals, (they play UAE next) the way they played in the leagues must be quite worrying for the South African fan.
While they have clobbered low-ranked teams, they have come totally unstuck against higher ranked teams.
Against 11th ranked Ireland, Amla went crazy and belted 159 runs off 128 balls and thanks to a century by du Plessis, they put up a formidable 411-4, winning by a whopping 201 runs in the end.
Against 10th ranked Zimbabwe, David Miller and Duminy took the score from 83-4 to 339-4. Miller hit an 81-ball century for a 62 run victory.
Against 8th ranked West Indies, it was de Villiers turn to go crazy blasting an unbeaten 162 off 66 balls for a commanding 408-5 and the Windies were crushed by 257 runs. Now imagine scoring a 400 on Friday and doing it again on Tuesday! That makes the Proteas rank favourites, right? Not really.
While the South Africans clobbered the three weakest teams they have come up against so far, how did they fare against world champions India? This was probably the most prestigious match of the group for them.
The Proteas were bowled out for 177 in one of their biggest losses in World Cup history. To make matters worse, they were outbatted, outbowled and outfielded by India. While the Indian batting can outshine anyone on any day, it is not often that the South African bowling and especially the fielding is overshadowed by the opposition.
If the collapse against India was bad, then the one against Pakistan was much worse. The reason for that is that Pakistan was looking like a shaky team which had an outside chance of not even making it to the quarters.
Look at Pakistan’s path till they met South Africa…
They lost to India by 76 runs. They lost to the West Indies by a whopping 150 runs.
They barely scraped past Zimbabwe. Pakistan scored a shaky 235 and Zimbabwe huffed and puffed and got 215 all out. Anyone watching the match may have well said that Zimbabwe choked more than Pakistan.
So then we had a contest between a minnows-basher South Africa and an uncertain Pakistan.
True to its form, Pakistan gave a very iffy performance to get 222 all down. What should have been an easy chase saw South Africa squander it right from the very beginning. From 0-1 they recovered to 67-1 and then they simply crashed to 77-5.
After that a blistering 58-ball 77 by de Villiers was not enough and they perished at 202. South Africa next plays UAE and another minnows-bashing performance could still see them come second in the group.
But still from one angle you could say that the Proteas choked in the league stages itself and the odds of it winning three knockout matches in a row have greatly diminished.The author is a Bengaluru-based journalist and blogger.
He blogs at http://sunilrajguru.com/