South Africa in World Cups | Five times when Proteas showed the world their infamous ‘chokers’ tag is not just a myth

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South Africa were eliminated from the Super 12 at the T20 World Cup 2022.

(ICC)

South Africa in World Cups | Five times when Proteas showed the world their infamous ‘chokers’ tag is not just a myth

South Africa's monkey on the back seems to be here to stay as they have once again failed to deliver in the World Cup, making an early exit following their recent defeat against the Netherlands.

Not too long ago, many considered South Africa genuine title contenders at the T20 World Cup in Australia after they staged strong performances in the first three matches, including one against India. But then, all of a sudden the dream fell apart, courtesy of back-to-back losses in the last two games, resulting in them not finding a place in the semi-finals. The first of the two defeats was still digestible because Pakistan, at that point, were more desperate for a win than them, and in-form David Miller’s niggle ahead of the contest did not help either. But what followed after was not even expected by the Proteas’ foes in their darkest dreams. They lost to the Netherlands – the only associate nation across two Super 12 groups – and the result ensured they have a long way to go before they leave the notorious ‘chokers’ tag behind.

Although some may argue South Africa’s ‘chokers’ tag can be immutable as they are not the only ones who endure losses at the World Cups, it is truly based on a reason. In fact, despite producing some of the sport's finest players, they have not made it to the finals in any World Cup. Here is a look at five of their most heart-breaking moments when they lost the plot under pressure at showpiece events in the past.

1. 1999 ODI World Cup

Finish: semi-finalists (lost to Australia because they finished ahead of the Proteas in the Super Six)

Brief Scores: Australia 213 in 49.2 overs (Michael Bevan 65; Shaun Pollock 5/36) tied with South Africa 213 in 49.4 overs ( Jacques Kallis 53; Shane Warne 4/29).

The scorecard might not give a complete idea of how intense the contest was at Edgbaston to those who started to follow cricket in the 2000s, but it still remains one of the all-time classic 50-over games, if not the all-time classic. Batting first, Australia, led by Steve Waugh, posted 213 in 49.2 overs, as Michael Bevan top-scored with 65 off 101 balls. Shaun Pollock and Allan Donald tore them apart, sharing nine wickets between them while Jacques Kallis took the other remaining scalp.

Coming to the chase, South Africa got off to an excellent start, racing to 43 runs in the first 10 overs without losing any wickets. Shane Warne then took the center stage, dismissing Gary Kirsten, Herschelle Gibbs, and Hansie Cronje in his next two overs to make a game out of nowhere. Daryll Cullinan departed soon after before Kallis (53 off 92 balls) and Jonty Rhodes (43 off 55 balls) stabilized the innings to keep their team in the hunt. Pollock (20 off 14 balls) and Lance Klusener (31* off 16 balls) played aggressively in the end, but losing wickets at regular intervals ensured the game went right down to the wire. The Proteas required 16 off the final eight balls, and Klusener’s six off Glenn McGrath, followed by a single off the last ball of the penultimate over reduced the equation to nine runs off the final six balls. The only caveat was that South Africa only had one wicket left.

Klusener, however, was not too worried about the situation. He began the final over, bowled by Damien Fleming, with back-to-back fours, making the runs requirement to just one off four balls. With Klusener still on strike, South Africans rightly thought it was their game until Donald’s ball-watching ran him out at the keeper’s end. The match was tied – for the first time in World Cups – but Australia advanced to the final because they finished second, just ahead of South Africa (third) at the end of the Super Six stage.

2. 2003 ODI World Cup

Finish: Group League exit at home (after losing to Sri Lanka in a must-win game)

Brief Scores: Sri Lanka 268/9 in 50 overs (Marvan Atapattu 124; Jacques Kallis 3/49) tied with South Africa (Herschelle Gibbs 73; Aravinda de Silva 2/36) via D/L method.

Despite playing at home, a highly-rated South African side found themselves in a difficult situation after losing to West Indies and New Zealand in the group stage. Pollock and Co. had to beat Sri Lanka in their final Pool B match to progress to the Super Six phase. Electing to bat first, Sri Lanka posted a challenging target of 268/9 in their allotted 50 overs. 

South Africa, in reply, batted positively from the word go, courtesy of a 65-run opening-wicket stand between Graeme Smith and Gibbs. But then they lost the plot, going down to 149/5 from 91/1. Mark Boucher (45* off 50 balls) and Pollock (25 off 37 balls) steadied the ship reducing the equation down to 57 off 45 balls when the latter departed. Rain threat loomed large from there on, and finally stopped the contest in the 45th over when South Africa had the exact D/L total of 229/6. The rain did not allow any further play, resulting in South Africa getting knocked out of the tournament due to a tie. Had Boucher not played Muthiah Muralidaran’s last ball of the game straight to short mid-wicket for a dot, the scenario could have been different.

3. 2007 ODI World Cup

Finish: Semi-finalists (lost to Australia by seven wickets)

Brief Scores: South Africa 149 in 43.5 overs (Justin Kemp 49*; Shaun Tait 4/39) lost to Australia 153/3 in 31.3 overs (Michael Clarke 60*; Shaun Pollock 1/16) by 7 wickets.

Even with the likes of Graeme Smith, AB de Villiers, Jacques Kallis, and Herschelle Gibbs in their ranks among others, South Africa’s batting unit staged a terrible display against Australia in the second semi-final in St Lucia, putting on a paltry 149 in 43.5 overs before losing the tenth wicket. They had no answer against the Aussie pace attack, led by McGrath and Shaun Tait. Thereon, it was too easy for the Baggy Greens to get the job done, and they predictably managed to get past the finishing line with little difficulty.

4. 2011 ODI World Cup

Finish: quarter-finalists (lost to New Zealand by 49 runs)

Brief Scores: New Zealand 221/8 in 50 overs (Jesse Ryder 83; Morne Morkel 3/46) beat South Africa 172 in 43.2 overs (Jacques Kallis 47; Jacob Oram 4/39) by 49 runs.

This was probably South Africa’s biggest choke at any World Cup until the Netherlands-defeat. After finishing on top of Group B with five wins and a defeat, the Rainbow Nation restricted New Zealand to 221/8 in Mirpur in the third quarter-final of the tournament. Then, the Proteas, despite losing Hashim Amla early, seemed comfortable in the chase, scoring 108/2 in 24.1 overs. However, the wickets thereon fell like a pack of cards as they could only muster 64 before being bowled out in 43.2 overs.

5. 2015 ODI World Cup

Finish: Semi-finalists (lost to New Zealand by four wickets)

Brief Scores: South Africa 281 in 43 overs (Faf du Plessis 82; Corey Anderson 3/72) lost to New Zealand 299/6 in 42.5 overs (Grant Elliott 84*; Morne Morkel 3/59) by four wickets.

Unlike the previous edition of the 50-over World Cup, South Africa’s batters did not disappoint this time, posting 281 in their rain-marred 43 overs. The revised target for New Zealand was 298, which, right from the start, was in their control. Grant Elliott made headlines in that game, scoring an unbeaten 84 off 73 balls to take his side past the finishing line with a ball to spare.

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