New chance for SA to ditch World Cup chokers tag

Graeme Smith does not believe his SA team choked their way out of the 2011 World Cup, but he feels other versions of the side have lost the plot at the tournament.

“I cannot deny that [SA] have exited the . . . World Cup in bizarre circumstances – Sydney 1992, Birmingham 1999 and Durban 2003 – but they have also been outplayed on the day in others, Karachi 1996, St Lucia 2007 and Dhaka 2011,” Smith wrote in a column published on the International Cricket Council’s website.

“At each of these . . . World Cups, [SA] showed good form during the event. However, I cannot categorically say that we were without doubt the best team or would absolutely have gone on to win any of the tournaments if we had got through our knockout game.

“We can only surmise as to what would have been.”

In the 2011 quarterfinals, SA limited New Zealand to 221-8. After 24 overs of their reply, Smith’s team had reached 108-2, which meant they needed another 114 runs at the moderate run rate of 4.39 against a middling attack on a slow but sound pitch.

Jacques Kallis and AB de Villiers were at the crease with frontline batsmen JP Duminy and Faf du Plessis to come, and Johan Botha and Robin Peterson in reserve. But SA lost eight wickets for 64 runs and with it the match.

A shattered Smith arrived at the post-match press conference pale and hesitant, and without answers for what had gone wrong. Neither had anyone else, except the reporter who told him “this was not a choke – it’s a joke”.

Former SA coach Eric Simons, who presided over SA’s first-round failure in the 2003 World Cup, gave Smith the benefit of the doubt.

“From a distance, it looked like a choke,” Simons said yesterday. “But perhaps for those closer to the action, who knew the conditions better and had to play against that attack on that pitch, it wasn’t.”

Simons was more certain about the nature of choking: “It can take hold in any dressing room. As a coach, you can feel it happening. You go from being in a place of confidence to being in a place of silence. The air gets thick and no one seems able to breathe.”

Lance Klusener did not know that feeling when SA crashed out of the 1999 World Cup, but only because he was involved in the run-out that sealed a tie in the semifinal against Australia at Edgbaston. In that dark moment, was the field a better place to be than the dressing room?

“Damn right it was,” Klusener said yesterday. “But where were the batsmen that day?”

Jacques Kallis was the only SA player to reach 50. When he was dismissed, 39 runs were required from 31 balls.

Klusener hit the first two deliveries of the last over for four to tie the scores. That left SA four balls with which to tip the scales. But, two of them later, Allan Donald was run out and the choke of all of SA’s chokes was complete.

What did Klusener make of Smith’s assertion that the 2011 debacle did not belong in the same category? “Maybe he’s saying that because he was involved, but if you lose 8-64 some of the blame has to go to the batsmen,” Klusener said.

SA now have another chance to rid themselves of the chokers slur, at this year’s World Cup.

– Telford Vice 

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