South Africa are not Chokers!

Trotting out that tired old line is just lazy journalism.

After South Africa crashed out of the Cricket World Cup it was predictable that media (print, radio and TV) were spruiking the ‘South Africa are chokers’ line but I think they are wrong. Firstly, I have a problem with the label Chokers in the first place. I think it is a term which is way, way overused. Let’s settle on a definition. Secondly, historically I have a problem with calling South Africa Chokers. Thirdly, I doubt whether journalists spruiking the tired old Chokers tag actually watched the whole game.

  1. Let’s settle on a definition

The Macmillan Dictionary defines a Choker as a sports person or team who loses a sporting contest after being in a position where they should have won easily. The Oxford Dictionary defines a Choker to mean a sports player who fails to perform at a crucial point as a result of nervousness.

Fair enough. I can live with both definitions. My issue is with the overuse of the term for anything which barely qualifies for either of those definitions.

  1. There is little historical merit to the claim

The sporting ban on South Africa basically spanned from 1970 to 1991 and the lack of competition had an impact on South African Cricket in the years immediately following. They basically had a generation or two that faced little or no outside competition. Because the South African team was immediately competitive little is mentioned regarding this issue. Also not a lot is remembered regarding their early history (outside South Africa that is). Prior to the Second World War South Africa won only 5 of its first 24 Test series with 18 losses and 1 series drawn. The period between the Second World War and their ban for apartheid was much more productive producing 5 Test series victories with 5 draws and 8 Test series losses during this period. Their post-apartheid period has been the most successful period in their history with 48 Test series wins, 14 draws and 16 Test series losses.

South Africa’s awesome Test record (and ODI record for that matter) is one of the reasons trotted out behind the Choking moniker. The thinking generally goes, South Africa are an awesome team which performs well until the big occasion gets to them. This argument almost has merit until you remember that South Africa post-apartheid has had the privilege of playing Bangladesh, Zimbabwe and largely missed the golden periods of West Indian and Pakistani Cricket. There hasn’t been an easier time to play Test Cricket. Their post-apartheid record against Australia is particularly illuminating. South Africa have won only 2 Test series against Australia with 3 draws and 8 losses. Australia have been the best Test Cricket nation (hands down) in the last 20 years and South Africa have performed against Australia as much of the rest of the World has. They’ve been competitive but Australia has been the better Test playing nation on multiple occasions.

If you had to sum up South Africa’s post-apartheid Test history, it would be they won against the teams they should win against and they lost against the teams they should lose against.

One Day International Cricket isn’t much different. It is true that some South African cricketers were included in World Series Cricket but they largely missed out on the early days of One Day International Cricket and the body of knowledge built up by other countries in the early years of the game. They missed out on the first 4 World Cups only returning in 1992. Since that time their performances have been as follows:

1992 

Host – Australia and New Zealand

Winner – Pakistan

Runner up – England

SA Result – Lost semi-final against England

Comment – This was the infamous rain revised target match. Chasing the target of 252 set by England, South Africa required 22 runs off 13 balls (a not insurmountable figure). After 12 minutes of rain that target was revised to 21 off 1 and the rest is history. No shame there.

1996 

Host – India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka

Winner – Sri Lanka

Runner up – Australia

SA Result – Knocked out in the quarter-finals by the West Indies

Comment – South Africa cruised through the early parts of the tournament with wins against Pakistan, New Zealand, England, UAE and the Netherlands.

In the quarter-final, the West Indies batted first and made 264. This was the team captained by Richie Richardson. Shivnarine Chanderpaul made 56 and Brian Charles Lara made 111 off 94. The South African attack boasted Shaun Pollock and South Africa were criticised for playing 2 spinners and leaving Allan Donald out of the team. BTW they were playing in the sub-continent. I think there is an argument for including 2 spinners. Personally I would have picked Allan Donald.

Gary Kirsten, Daryll Cullinan and Hansie Cronje couldn’t get over the line posting 245 in reply. I wonder who they were batting against? Only Curtly Ambrose, Courtney Walsh and Ian Bishop. It was actually Roger Harper (4-47) and Jimmy Adams (3-53) who did the damage in the end. Probably no great surprise given the surface.

Still no Choking as far as I can tell.

1999 

Host – England

Winner – Australia

Runner up – Pakistan

SA Result – Knocked out in the semi-finals vs Australia

Comment – The pool matches were relatively uneventful with wins against India, Sri Lanka, England and Kenya and a loss against Zimbabwe (big win for Zimbabwe BTW). South Africa were cruising in the Super Sixes as well with wins against Pakistan and NZ. This is where all the trouble started.

South Africa’s last game of the Super Sixes was against Australia and it was a must win for Australia. If South Africa had won that match, Australia would have been eliminated and South Africa would have played Zimbabwe in the semi-finals with the other semi-final being NZ vs Pakistan. South Africa started brightly accumulating 271 on the back of 101 from Herschelle Gibbs and a 50 from Daryll Cullinan. Lance Klusener padded their score with a quickfire 36 off 21 balls. This was against an attack boasting Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne in their prime.

Australia overhauled that target thanks to Ricky Ponting (69) and Steve Waugh (120 not out off 110 balls), however, it is the Herschelle Gibbs catch which turned into a drop due to premature celebration (followed by Steve Waugh’s ‘You’ve just dropped the World Cup’ comment) when Waugh was still on 56 which the game will most be remembered for.

The semi-final is where most of the demons lie for South Africa though. Chasing 213, South Africa were 9/205 with 6 balls remaining. Lance Klusener was on strike and Allan Donald at the other end of the pitch. Klusener hit 2 fours off the first 2 balls but wasn’t able to score off the next ball. With the scores level (and Australia to go through if the match was tied because of a higher Super Six position) Klusener hit the next ball and took off for a single. Donald was paying insufficient attention (amazing still to this day) and was not backing his partner up. End result was Australia through to the final.

Now I agree that South Africa should have won this game. Was all of the above as a result of Choking? I don’t think so. Cricket is made up of a thousand moments, some of them absolutely crucial. Losing the match because your number 8 set off for a panic run and your number 11 didn’t back up to the level required isn’t Choking. It’s bad Cricket. Losing the earlier Super Six match against Australia because one of your exuberant players celebrated too early is bad Cricket as well. Both were not of the quality required to win matches but I don’t think either was as a result of a team Choking. At any rate that is the high water mark for the Choking theorists.

2003

Host – South Africa, Kenya and Zimbabwe

Winner – Australia

Runner up – India

SA Result – Knocked out at the group stage

Comment – This wasn’t a great tournament for South Africa. They won against Canada, Kenya and Bangladesh but lost to West Indies and New Zealand and the final game with Sri Lanka ended in a tie. The tie against Sri Lanka effectively knocked South Africa out of the tournament in a rain affected game. To say that it was South Africa Choking was a little far fetched. South Africa was racing to get ahead of the Duckworth Lewis formula when rain stopped play with 10 overs to go. In the end it was a miscalculation from the dressing room which caused Mark Boucher to block the last ball of the match. Bad maths but again not Choking.

2007

Host – West Indies

Winner – Australia

Runner up – Sri Lanka

SA Result – Knocked out in the semi-finals against Australia

Comment – South Africa crushed the Netherlands and Scotland before being beaten by Australia in the group stage.  During the Super 8s (yes, Cricket has trialled a few different methods for finals qualification), they knocked over Sri Lanka, Ireland, England and the West Indies but amazingly lost to Bangers and New Zealand. What happened next?

Oh they got creamed by Australia (bowled out for 149 with Glenn McGrath taking 3 for 18 and Shaun Tait 4 for 39). End of story.

2011 

Host – Bangladesh, India and Sri Lanka

Winner – India

Runner up – Sri Lanka

SA Result – Knocked out in the quarter-finals by NZ

Comment – South Africa cruised through the group stage with wins against the West Indies, the Netherlands, India, Ireland and Bangers with their only loss coming against England. Unfortunately for them, they crashed out in the quarter-finals against NZ chasing 221 for victory. They were bundled out for 172.

As far as I can tell the Choker tag obviously arose by a combination of the following three thoughts, 1) South Africa is so awesome it should have won a World Cup by now, 2) Everything that happened during the 1999 World Cup and 3) Journalists need something to write about.

My overwhelming thought when I look at this list of past winners and finalists is not that South Africa are Chokers. It is that India or Sri Lanka win World Cups in the sub-continent for the most part (1987 notwithstanding) and Australia wins everywhere else (certainly since the West Indies lost their mojo).

In chronological order South Africa were knocked out by Rain, West Indies (super star Windies not poor shadow of former glory Windies), Australia, Poor form + Bad Maths + Rain, Australia and New Zealand (always sneaky good at World Cups).

During that time period Australia have often been unbeatable. Ironically that has coincided with the careers of Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath, Steve Waugh, Ricky Ponting, Mat Hayden, Mark Taylor and Michael Clarke. The list goes on and on. Goodness me, Australia were a competitive ODI unit in the 80s when there Test team was in massive rebuilding mode.

There are much better theories running around about why South Africa haven’t won a World Cup yet. Some say South Africa plays too conservatively.

I have my own theory. They haven’t been good enough yet. The teams that have knocked them out have been better teams or have at least performed better on the day for a number of reasons which are largely more complex than ‘they are Chokers’.

  1. They definitely didn’t Choke this time

You could sum up the South Africa vs NZ semi-final as follows:

  • South Africa was playing NZ at home where NZ were on a run of a million straight ODI wins.
  • South Africa was building towards a score of 350+ when it rained. They still managed to set a D/L revised target of 298 off 43 overs.
  • NZ started well with McCullum eviscerating the SA attack but when he departed for 59 off 26 balls SA started slowly pegging NZ back.
  • Eventually NZ were 4/149 off 21.4 overs and the match was slowly swinging back in SA favour particularly on the back of Morne Morkel and Imran Tahir.
  • Dale Steyn had been out of sorts all evening and seemed to be suffering from some sort of injury. Remember this, it is important later.
  • Corey Anderson and Grant Elliott kept pace with the asking rate and hit a 100 run partnership to keep NZ in the game.
  • AB de Villiers missed a clear run out opportunity with Elliott on 33. Crucial mistake.
  • Then Corey Anderson and Luke Ronchi departed and the asking rate kept looking like it was going to balloon out of control but then Grant Elliott kept hitting boundaries and Daniel Vettori also hit some key boundaries.
  • It helped that the ground was small.
  • With 12 balls to go NZ still needed 23 runs. Morkel bowled an unbelievable over netting only 8 runs until the last ball where Elliott should have again been out but a collision between Behardien and Duminy resulted in a dropped catch. Tension was unbelievable.
  • 12 runs required from the last 6 balls. Dale Steyn to bowl the last over. He didn’t look right. He hadn’t looked right all night. Question marks over his hamstring.
  • First ball – bye. Elliott charging through.
  • Second ball – 1 run off a full toss. Vettori back on strike. 10 off 4 balls. Advantage SA.
  • Third ball – Vettori squeezes a four down to third man. Advantage NZ.
  • Fourth ball – They run a bye. Down to 5 off 2. A tie will be good enough to see NZ through.
  • Fifth ball – Elliott smashes a six over long on.
  • I let the whole neighbourhood know I support NZ.

I did feel sorry for the South Africans. You could tell it meant a lot to them. It was sad that there had to be a loser and a winner. It was ODI Cricket at its highest form. I don’t think they Choked. I think that is lazy journalism. I think they were beaten by a better side.

As were NZ a few days later.

What was sweeter than Jelly Bread?

  • Australian pace attack – Unbelievable in the final. Mitchell Starc in particular but they all chipped in at the right moment. The batsmen didn’t have such a big task but they didn’t let the team get into trouble at any stage. The match was a bit of an anti-climax but Australia richly deserved to lift the trophy at the end of the day. They were awesome.

What wasn’t

  • The ICC still maintaining that only 8 teams should qualify for the World Cup in 2019. Unbelievable.

Other random thoughts

  • I’m thinking that the Cronulla players who took plea deals for their ASADA drug charges will feel pretty disappointed by the Essendon ruling. The darkest day in sport just got a little lighter.

Bill James Award 

For the statistically superior NRL human being.

Jason Taumalolo – Tries – 0, Run Metres – 240m, Try Assists – 0, Tackle Breaks – 5, Tackles – 19, Offloads – 1, Line Breaks – 0, Line Break Assists – 0, Errors – 0, Penalties Conceded – 0 and Times he bent the Melbourne defensive line back – 1,000,000.

NRL Tips Round 5

Bulldogs vs Rabbitohs – Rabbitohs (We knew that Souths wouldn’t go through the season undefeated. They were finally rolled by an enthusiastic Eels team. Bullies were lucky to get out of jail against the Tigers last week. Rabbitohs won’t lose back to back games. Not until Origin at least)

Titans vs Broncos – Broncos (Broncos have been better than advertised this year and the Titans have been mostly competitive. This will be close but Broncos to win in the end)

Sea Eagles vs Raiders – Sea Eagles (Sea Eagles continue to struggle with injuries. Raiders struggling full stop. Manly have won the last 242 games between the sides so there’s that)

Knights vs Dragons – Knights (Knights qualify as the biggest early season surprise of the competition so far. Won’t lose this week)

Roosters vs Sharks – Roosters (They will miss Blake Ferguson but not against the lacklustre Sharks)

Eels vs Tigers – Tigers (I’m tipping the upset. Eels are inconsistent and will be ripe for the picking against the Tigers who were a little unlucky to lose last week. Plus they have Aaron Woods back this week. He is the real deal)

Storm vs Warriors – Storm (I’m picking Storm but this could very well be an upset for the Warriors. You never know with those guys)

Panthers vs Cowboys – Cowboys (Panthers have now had back to back losses to the Roosters and the Knights and the Cowboys will upset them as well. Last week was a season turning win and they will be desperate to put another W in the books)

Last week – 3/8

Season so far – 18/32

NRL Fantasy Round 5

Trades

Kane Elgey (Titans) for Mitch Cornish (Raiders) – Cornish was replaced by Sam Williams and Kane Elgey was brought in to cover Daniel Mortimer.

Euan Aitken (Dragons) for Lachlan Maranta (Broncos) – Euan Aitken has exploded on to the Fantasy scene with an average of 55.5 over the last 2 weeks.

Starting Team

Robbie Farah (Tigers), Paul Gallen (Sharks), Andrew Fifita (Sharks), Shaun Fensom (Raiders), Corey Parker (Broncos), Tohu Harris (Storm), Daly Cherry-Evans (Sea Eagles), Thomas Leuluai (Warriors), Solomone Kata (Warriors), Iosia Soliola (Raiders), Greg Inglis (Rabbitohs), Euan Aitken (Dragons) and Tuimoala Lolohea (Warriors)

Bench

Kierran Moseley (Titans), Sam Lisone (Warriors), Jack Bird (Sharks) and Kane Elgey (Titans)

Balance of the squad

Rory O’Brien (Dragons), Chris Grevsmuhl (Rabbitohs), Brendan Santi (Tigers), Mitch Moses (Tigers), Kelepi Tanginoa (Cowboys), Jordan Kahu (Broncos) Eto Nabuli (Dragons) and Edrick Lee (Raiders)

Round 4 Score

815

Current Points 

3,163

Current Position

3,745 from 100,396

EPL Tips Match Day 31 

Arsenal vs Liverpool – Arsenal 2-1 (Everyone thought the challenge to Chelsea would come from Man City but a belated challenge from Arsenal looks closer to the mark)

Everton vs Southampton – Draw 2-2 (Looks like the Champion’s League might be a bit beyond them this year but Southampton keep surprising. Everton will be trying to string 3 in a row. Good chance for a draw)

Leicester vs West Ham – Leicester 2-1 (Time is running out for Leicester and the Hammers don’t have a lot to play for other than pride)

Man U vs Aston Villa – Man U 4-2 (This should be a high scoring affair with Man U too strong at home)

Swansea vs Hull – Swansea 2-1 (Swansea were better in the first half but have had their moments in recent times. Should be too strong for Hull at home)

West Brom vs QPR – West Brom 2-0 (QPR have lost so many games since Christmas. Add another one to the loss column)

Chelsea vs Stoke – Chelsea 3-0 (Chelsea should win this easily)

Burnley vs Tottenham – Tottenham 2-1 (Tricky little encounter for Spurs. Should win but Turf Moor is not the easiest place to play)

Sunderland vs Newcastle – Draw 1-1 (Tyne Wear Derby. Enough said)

Crystal Palace vs Man City – City 2-1 (Palace are a different side these days but City has enough class to get the job done)

Aston Villa vs QPR – Villa 2-1 (Villa to heap misery on QPR)

I’ve adopted the scoring system utilised by Mark Lawrenson on the BBC (a correct result (picking a win, draw or defeat) is worth ONE point and picking an exact score THREE points) and even though he wouldn’t know me from Adam we are going head to head all season long. It’s on like Donkey Kong (unless I get a letter from his lawyer or Donkey Kong’s lawyer and then I’m tipping against myself again).

Last week – Me – 13 (7 from 10 with 3 perfect scores) and Lawro – 11 (7 from 10 with 2 perfect scores)

Season so far – Me – 221 and Lawro – 205 (Lawro randomly includes the odd FA Cup or League Cup fixture which is why his score is different on the BBC site. Plus Lawro will be tipping in the Championship next year)

Fantasy Premier League Match Day 31

Transfer of the week

David de Gea (Man U) for Fraser Forster (Southampton) – Injury replacement.

David De Gea - Photo by Saul Tevelez - CC-BY-2.0

David De Gea – Photo by Saul TevelezCC-BY-2.0

My team this week

De Gea (Man U), Clyne (Southampton), Ivanovic (Chelsea), Terry (Chelsea), Sanchez (Arsenal), Eriksen (Spurs), Downing (West Ham), Hazard (Chelsea), Cazorla (Arsenal), Kane (Spurs) and Austin (QPR) with Hamer (Leicester), Zamora (QPR), Bruce (Hull) and McShane (Hull) on the bench.

Current Points

1,603

Current Position

157,100 from 3,480,699

Stay Tuned

Stay tuned for the next exciting episode on Thursday, 9 April 2015 titled ‘2015 Cricket World Cup Review’

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3 thoughts on “South Africa are not Chokers!

  1. Pingback: 2015 Cricket World Cup Review Part 2 | The Game of Sport

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