South Africa Is Not the Only Team that Chokes

If India or England were in the same position, would it still be considered a choke? Or a poor display of skill?

Naturally, one would say: “yes, of course they are” Or even: “they have been choking for the past 18-odd years”. Personally, I despise using this word, but merely classifying the Proteas losing in any game as a choke annoys me. You cannot lose a match you were never going to win. For many people whom I’ve had the pleasure of interacting with on Twitter, a common understanding of the word ‘choking’ means to be in a winning positing in a match, but you lose after being inches away from victory. A perfect example is the chance South Africa had in the 1999 World Cup against Australia to advance to the final. However, a disaster of a run out between Lance Klusener and Allan Donald saw the last South African wicket fall resulting in the match ending in a draw. Australia advanced ahead of South Africa because of a higher net run-rate.

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Always so close, but so far away. Image from: youtube.com

 

Heartbreaking? Extremely. But this is not the only example of choking the Proteas have had in their time playing against international teams.

They recently played a three-match ODI series against England in which they lost 2-1: the first ODI series loss since the end of 2015 when they managed to beat India 3-2 in their conditions. The team had lost the first match by a heavy 72 runs, placing England a step higher than South Africa. The second ODI was a choke. I recall the commentator in that match stating that it was truly the Proteas’ game to lose. The last over saw them need seven more runs to win. A boundary would have swung things in their favour. Big hitters in Chris Morris and David Miller could not muster up a last dose of economy-raising batting to prevent a series victory for the English. In the end, England won by two runs and won the series.

I am not debating that South Africa don’t let the pressure get to them when it matters and they are in a winning position, but why is the term ‘choking’ only used whenever they lose? Is it because of the numerous chances they have had to get to the final and add more silverware to their cabinet?

Watching highlights of the matches from rain-speckled Champions Trophy this year, there were many teams that choked in games, but it was classified as the underdogs winning, or that the bowling and/or batting were not working together. Looking at the teams in Group A, New Zealand choked against Bangladesh which effectively knocked them out of the tournament. Four early wickets, including the wicket of Tamim Iqbal pushed the Kiwis forward to victory. Thanks to fabulous batting by Mahmudullah and Shakib Al Hasan saw them win by five wickets. Tim Southee, Adam Milne and Trent Boult being the main wicket-takers for their squad, taking three wickets each in the tournament, failed to defend 265 which is an above average score at Sophia Gardens.

Australia, technically, choked twice: first against New Zealand, and second against England. Their first game saw the match being abandoned due to the weather; however it was Australia who were the grateful ones as they were reeling at 53-3 when the floodgates opened with their two openers and Captain Steve Smith out. Although Australia had an unfortunate time in the tournament with two of their games being rained out, and one affected by rain in a losing cause, one would think that they would play their hardest against old foes England to qualify for the semi-finals. After a slightly questionable batting display saw them put up 277-9, it showed how much the Baggy Greens rely on Smith, Warner, and Finch to make runs. After those three went out, Travis Head failed to have a partner take the team over 300 as middle and lower order wickets fell just like the English rain. When they were bowling, Starc and Hazelwood put England on the back foot, claiming three wickets including that of their in-form batsman Joe Root. Eoin Morgan and Ben Stokes managed to chase the Duckworth Lewis score and had England win by 40 runs, having Australia kicked out without winning a single game. The Aussie bowlers failed to capitalise on the three wickets they had early in the innings, especially with the undecided weather lurking around the ground.

Another incident of a team choking came a day after South Africa’s disastrous performance against India, with the winner of the Sri Lanka and Pakistan game going against England in the semi-finals. Sri Lanka had batted first and felt the wrath of the Pakistan bowling attack, as they succumbed to 236. Into the batting innings, the match was really one that could have gone either way, but Sri Lanka were favourites to win as they needed three more wickets to qualify and play against the hosting country. Dropped catches were aplenty as Pakistan managed to chase down 237 with three wickets to spare. Again, the Lankans had failed to work on the chances presented to them in order to win the game, but not one media publication called that losing game a choke.

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Hasan Ali: Chief destroyer in the Pakistan bowling unit. Image from: hindustantimes.com

Why is that dreaded word only applicable to when South Africa loses any game, regardless of whether or not they would have lost? Most newspaper headlines in Australia, England, and pretty much anywhere else in the cricketing world slammed the ‘choker’ tag and ‘South Africa’ in the same line. But the fact of the matter is that South Africa were never going to win against India by their terrible shot selection and senseless run-outs which gave their bowlers nothing to defend against a great Indian batting line up. As I stated earlier: you cannot choke in a match you were never going to win. But I will end with this scenario: if a match between Australia and South Africa were to take place, and the Aussies needing three runs off two balls to win a semi-final. If their batsmen failed to get the three runs needed, lost two wickets in quick succession and lost, what would that be called? We know it would be called choking if it was South Africa batting for a win, but what would be called if it was Australia? Poor play on shot selection? Unfortunate? Mediocre play?

Now I’ll ask again: Is South Africa the only team that chokes?

Congratulations, Proteas. You Played Yourselves.

But hey, it’s not like South Africa were going to get a round of applause for winning the Champions Trophy because it’s not a World Cup title anyway.

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South Africa’s hope of qualifying for the semi-finals being destroyed. Image from: cricketcountry.com

Well, let’s get this out of the way first:

A team cannot choke in a match that they were not going to win in the first place. A team chokes in a match when they were on the verge of victory, only to miss a run out by a centimetre, or to not score that one run needed for a series-levelling victory. See The Popping Crease speak more about the matter of choking in matches. Again, first and last time I ever use that word on this blog. This is just for clarity’s sake.

South Africa did not choke against India on Sunday. The batting was abysmal and too slow to score runs upfront with some useless run-outs. From that batting innings, the bowlers were given nothing to defend. When that last over had commenced, all they needed was a run a ball to win. But they made things difficult for themselves in not doing so.

South Africa, however, did choke against England in the second match of the ODI series when Chris Morris failed to hit four runs off the last two balls.

Australia could have won the match against England as they had three early wickets, but the bowlers, including everyone’s beloved Mitchell Starc, could not take three more wickets after the first three to place England on the back-foot. They choked.

Sri Lanka needed three more wickets against Pakistan to win the match, and effectively go through to semi-finals. I wanted Sri Lanka to go through to the semis now that South Africa were knocked out, but congratulations to Pakistan on coming back from that performance against India in their first game. The Lankans failed to take the last three wickets needed, and Pakistan cruised to the low 237 total set by Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka choked in that game.

Why is it only a choke when South Africa is involved? If Australia and India are in a final with the Aussies needing two more runs to win with one ball remaining, and Travis Head on 78 and Matthew Wade on 44 at the crease. A full toss is bowled by Jasprit Bumrah to Head begging to be hit for a six, but he bunts it for a dot-ball and India win. Does that not qualify as a choke?

 

I understand that in life, and in cricket, there can only be one winner most times. Someone has to lose, and that’s fine. What I have a problem with is when you lose dismally. South African media and fans are sick and tired of hearing “it’s just one of those games where we don’t know what went went wrong, but we have to go back to the drawing board for the next tournament”. We’ve been hearing that post 1998.

Now that South Africa is out of this tournament, Kagiso Rabada and AB de Villiers have lost their number one rankings in bowling and batting respectively. Am I mad? Not really. It’s a time for introspection, reflection, and actual preparation for the next ODI series and tournaments. Will South Africa lose their number one ranking after this tournament? Most likely, but I will be surprised if they don’t.

AB is not captain material, and here is why I think so. You cannot go into a media conference saying that the opposition is a team you’ve played multiple times before, so you know what they are capable of. You never know what teams have cooking up their sleeves to win a match, and I would think as a captain AB would get that. You cannot claim that you are a good captain just because you feel that you are.

Great that you think you can lead and that you feel like you’ve got great leadership qualities, but if ex-players and commentators are questioning your leadership styles after each match and tournament, then there’s a real problem. Asking another player to help you with field placements as well as who should bowl next is just not on. You cannot be a captain who picks and chooses when and which format and series you want to play.  You should be with the team throughout all obstacles and victories.

Some people have leadership skills and some don’t. That’s all good and well, but in saying that, the best player on the team does not always make for the best captain. That’s cool, too. But if you feel that there is a need for you to keep justifying why you are a good captain, people are not really sure who you are trying to convince.

The team is completely different under Faf’s reigns than under AB’s. Fearless and ruthless compared to the timid and cautious team in the Champions Trophy is a big contrast for a team that is number one in the world. The best cricket we saw from the Proteas was when Faf was in charge.

But the problem is; most people could see the cracks in this team as far back as the ODI series against New Zealand.

So what is the actual problem within the Proteas camp? Is it coaches? Is it the captain? Is it mental? It is NOT quotas. Has the passion dissipated from the players? Should we expect the player performance be similar to that of the Tri-Series in the Caribbean last year?

But hey, we shouldn’t worry; the Proteas are to play in a T20I 3-match series later this month against England with AB as stand-in captain for Faf. So surely, AB will be back in full swing come that series because it’s T20s, right?

If Faf Was Cheating, Then So Was Steven Smith

This is a slight problem if Steve is going to listen to a player who has only played six test matches and clearly doesn’t know the rules.

Faf du Plessis: found guilty of ball tampering after video footage surfaced of him polishing a ball with saliva mixed with mint from a sweet. Fined 100 percent of his match fee. Appealed the decision. Told by David Richardson that it’s disappointing that he was appealing, even though it was well within his right. Was booed by Australians for what happened and harassed by Aussie media in between matches. The Aussie nation was basically hurt because they felt a sweet kept the Baggy Greens from winning that test series.

Steve Smith: called out by umpire Nigel Llong and Virat Kohli for using the wrong kind of DRS (Dressing-Room Review System). Accused (but no proof of the other two times) of doing this three times over three days. Said it was a brain fade. Apart from sane cricket fans and Indian players, CA board and the rest of his team believed him (on a necessary side note, remember when ‘Saint’ David Warner crucified Faf during Mint-gate saying “I would be disappointed if any of my players did that. Rules are rules”) and backed him. So much so that the ICC didn’t sanction him.

Now hey, I’m not implying that there are some shady dealings behind the closed doors of the ICC, but something doesn’t make sense. The issue was reported within five days of the match being played. There is video evidence, which has both Kohli and Nigel Llong seeing what happened. So why was this not dealt with? Because Steve Smith said it was an accident? Is that the justification we can give nowadays?

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Disagreements before the drama happened. Image: india.com

We all remember when South Africa basically obliterated the Aussies in their own backyard late last year in tests, right? Great, because we are taking a small trip down memory lane. Apart from the win, what is the one thing you remember from that series? If you thought of the Faf du Plessis mint-gate drama, you are spot on! While, maybe, it’s still a sensitive topic for heartbroken Aussie fans that their glory boys were embarrassed at home due to an alleged swing-inducing sweet, it is something that needs to be addressed.

Earlier this month, Australian captain Steve Smith was reprimanded by umpire Nigel Llong and Virat Kohli for looking up at the dressing room for assistance on whether or not to review for an lbw. Smith had gone on to say, during the press conference, that it was a brain-fade and that he did not mean to do it or that he did not know he could not do it. This may sound a bit rude, but what kind of a captain, whom has been a captain for as long as Smith has, does not know the rules of the game?

kwesesportscomPeter Handscomb tried to divert the criticism Smith was getting onto him by tweeting it was his fault stating that it was him that said Smith must ask the teammates and staff in the dressing room. Even so, his captain should have still not done it. There’s no excuse for what he’s done. As a captain, he should have said to Handscomb that was he was suggesting is not allowed. Apologising, while it’s polite, is not really going to help anything. Do you think that even if Faf apologised, he would not have gotten such heat? Why were there no newspapers slating Smith for what he had done? Were they hyping up how Kohli had reacted than Smith’s actual offence? This is a slight problem if Steve is going to listen to a player who has only played six test matches and clearly doesn’t know the rules.

Am I wrong in assuming that checking with support staff to see if you are out or not allowed is a case of common sense? As a South African fan, because of how the Mint-gate saga rocked the cricketing nation for a bit, I am mad that the ICC is not doing a single thing about this. They just closed the matter off and told everyone to move on. I feel that they should have addressed this matter, not just a peace talk, once the heat had died down. Because this did not happen, the rest of this series could turn ugly with sledges filled with pettiness and bitterness. Did the ICC actually close the matter off on purpose to get people talking about the match/series and giving it more hype? But hey, maybe these two teams are going to act like grown men, and not let a small issue like this not get in the way of play, right?

Newspaper clipping image found at kwesesports.com.