We’re not gloating. England rarely even give themselves a chance to choke.
No dramatic knock-outs for England. England exit tournaments quite serenely, moving from ‘performing badly’ to ‘up against it’ then ‘as good as out’ before finally reaching ‘qualification a mathematical impossibility’ – at which point they board a plane looking glum and making weak pronouncements about being ‘a young team’ to anyone who might be listening, which is nobody.
South Africa though? By jove do they know how to get knocked out. By JOVE.
The all-time classic example was the 1999 World Cup semi final against Australia. Next, in the 2003 World Cup, South Africa were set a rain-adjusted target to progress in a group match against Sri Lanka. They reached the score they believed was required and then blocked the final ball. Unfortunately, the score they were on was the score required for a tie – so they were knocked out.
Then there was yesterday’s performance. Even allowing for bowler-friendly conditions, India’s total of 153 was nothing special. However, South Africa generously sacrificed their entire top order instantly, falling to 31-5. At this point they kept it interesting by mounting a fightback and reaching 100. Then, true to form, they fell apart again, losing a further four wickets for just 11 runs.
South Africa failed even to reach the more crucial target of 126 which would have allowed them to remain in the competition on net run rate.
South Africa’s captain, Graeme Smith, was quick to pour scorn on the idea that South Africa had once again choked. He blamed the format of the competition, which isn’t as ludicrous as it sounds. South Africa have won all of their games bar this one, which is a better record than some of the other semi finalists. However, this was the match that counted.
You can’t blame the format for failing to reach 126 and you can’t claim you’re not chokers when every key match is characterised by an unexpectedly zesty lunge towards defeat.