South Africa should have seen this coming as soon as Pakistan lost their first two games

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Cricket has lots of laws, but also a couple of general rules. One rule is that Pakistan will generally defy expectations – whether high or low. Another is that South Africa will generally contrive a way of exiting world tournaments when everything seemed to be going swimmingly for them.

South Africa lost to the Netherlands today and failed to qualify for the T20 World Cup semi finals when no-one had really even been considering that a possibility.

But really, it was always on the cards. As soon as Pakistan lost their first two matches, their odds of finishing in the top two were massively slim. And everyone knows what that means. It means advantage Pakistan.

South Africa should have been aware of this. They should have seen the danger immediately. Maybe they did. Maybe they realised that Pakistan’s woeful start most likely meant they themselves would have to endure a crucial final group stage fixture against the Netherlands.

Remember Stuart Broad’s final over when the Netherlands beat England in 2009? The Netherlands are a side who can definitely serve up an entertainingly humiliating defeat to a higher profile side in a T20 World Cup.

Perhaps South Africa saw this scenario early. Perhaps they’ve been dwelling on it, chewing it over, building it up in their heads. Maybe they thought about their reputation and how defeat here would add a further sheen to it. That probably didn’t help.

Pakistan, meanwhile, are flying. High on life and blessed with unstoppable momentum, victory in this tournament is surely now a complete impossibility.

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  1. Love Roelof van der Merwe. Would make it into an ‘angry celebrations’ world XI alongside Kohli, Steyn, Andre Nel and Sam Curran.

  2. My favourite comment was someone saying that he doesn’t think South Africa are chokers because the sample size is too small, but South Africa keep responding by increasing the sample size.

  3. Here’s why Pakistan should win the final, but also statistically why they almost certainly won’t.

    Any global sports tournament is enlivened by the ultimate winner having lost before the knock-out rounds to a competitor who clearly isn’t the best in world, just so that people can make jokes about this earlier win meaning the obviously weak team is “morally the new world champion”, on the thoroughly sensible grounds that they beat the actual champion during the tournament at which the champion was decided. The more blatant the gap in quality between Actual and Moral World Champions, for example if the MWC lost all their other matches and the (A)WC won all theirs, the more perfect this situation is. As perpetual underdogs, Zimbabwe would be an excellent choice for Moral World Champion. Doubly so in the current tournament, where their only major scalp was surprising Pakistan by one run, an unbeatably banterable margin of victory to be Moral World Champion by. So if Pakistan are to go on to be Actual World Champions, they aren’t only doing it for themselves: by doing so they’ll also earn Zimbabwe the title of Moral World Champion.

    What does history say about the odds of this? Zimbabwe have played in the 1983, 1987, 1992, 1996, 1999, 2003, 2007, 2011 and 2015 ODI world cups – but were sufficiently strong at the 1999 and 2003 editions, making the Super Sixes on both occasions, that at first sight they wouldn’t deserve to be Moral World Champion in those years due to insufficient underdoggerel. The T20 World Cups / World T20s they have appeared in are 2007, 2010, 2012, 2014, 2016 and 2022.

    For ODI World Cups we dispense with 1987 (Zim were winless & heavily beaten by champions Australia), 1996 (Zim beat only Kenya, losing their 4 other matches including convincing defeats to finalists India and champions Sri Lanka), 2003 (Zim reached the Super Sixes due to wins over Namibia, Netherlands and a walk-over against England, badly lost all three Super Sixes matches against NZ, Kenya and Sri Lanka – a fairly successful tournament for Zim yet one in which they played, and lost heavily, to all four semi-finalists, hence not a sniff of a MWC), 2007 (winless & didn’t even play any of the semi-finalists), 2011 (beat only Canada & Kenya, didn’t play champions India, thrashed by the 3 other semi-finalists), and 2015 (beat only UAE, didn’t play either finalist, heavily beaten by the two losing semi-finalists). It’s worth noting that all these defeats we are skipping over only enhance Zimbabwe’s claim to underdog status and their worthiness to hold the mantle of Moral World Champion, but history has been against Zimbabwe (and consequently Pakistan) in this regard.

    In their 1983 debut, Zimbabwe were the only associate member playing, and were drawn into a four-team group with West Indies (champions at the previous, indeed only, two World Cups), Australia and surprise package India. In those more leisurely days, each team played the others twice, and Zimbabwe finished P6 W1 L5. That one win was in their ODI debut, where they stunned Australia by 13 runs at Trent Bridge. Australia finished third in the group with 8 points to India’s 16 and West Indies on 20, hence failed to make the semi-finals, so you might think that is the end of the issue of Zimbabwe’s shot at a Moral World Championship that year. But it’s worth pointing out how close they came at Tunbridge Wells when they played India for a second time, having lost by five wickets to them at Leicester the week before. Spearheaded by Kevin Curran (who would have been an especially interested observer of the current World Cup had he not died in 2012) and Peter Rawson, Zimbabwe reduced India to 0/1, 6/2, 6/3, 9/4, 17/5, 77/6 and 78/7 before Kapil Dev hit a stupendous 175* with 16 fours and 6 sixes. In the end India reached 266/8 and Zimbabwe managed 235 in reply. Had India lost, as looked almost certain when their innings was in such disarray, it would have made no difference to their final group standing (2nd) or their path to immortality in the final. But it would also have meant Zimbabwe becoming Moral World Champions on their first attempt. Instead, their wait continues.

    In 1992 there was a round-robin for all the teams, in which Zimbabwe won only one game: a nine-run upset in their final match against England. Having bowled Zimbabwe out for 134 in 46.1 overs (Botham 3/23), England stumbled to 125 all out in 49.1 overs. Chicken farmer Eddo Brandes took 4/21 off 10 overs; Alec Stewart’s 29 off 96 balls (almost a complete T20 innings!) was the only score above 20. Despite this, England finished 2nd in the table and went on to win their semi-final against South Africa. Every other Zim match was a defeat, and – except for a three-wicket loss to Sri Lanka – they were all heavy. The round-robin format meant this included losing to all 7 other full-member teams, so an English World Cup victory would have made Zimbabwe’s Moral World Championship, in their last World Cup as an associate member, one of the most definitive MWCs in the history of world sport. Clearly inferior to every other team yet the only one to beat the champion! If only… England should have won that final; Zimbabwe should have been Moral World Champions, but we all know what Pakistan (who’d only reached the semi-finals by finishing 4th in the round-robin) did next.

    In the 1999 group stages, Zimbabwe beat fellow Super Six qualifiers India (by 3 runs) and South Africa (by 48 runs), as well as winless Kenya. Points from two of those wins carried over into the Super Sixes, in which Zimbabwe’s only additional point came from a rained-off match against NZ. Had Zim gone on to win that match, they’d have reached the semi-finals for the only time: even without, they finished a comfortable 5th in the tournament, so arguably it was too successful for them to have been worthy Moral World Champions anyway. Worse, they lost by 44 runs to eventual champions Australia in the Super Sixes.

    But we shouldn’t be so hasty to dismiss the MWC potential of the 1999 CWC. Firstly, regarding Zimbabwe’s apparently excessive success, the tournament is remembered for hosts England being dumped out of the competition in the group stage before the Super Sixes (and notoriously, before the release of their official song), and yet England beating Zimbabwe is one of the few things that went right for them. Had Zimbabwe finished as Moral World Champions, then we could extend the chain further and declare that despite, or even triumphantly because, of the utter humiliation and failure that England’s 1999 World Cup campaign is rightly remembered for, England were in fact the Moral Moral World Champions! With such a prize in sight, we would surely be entitled to neglect a few more Zimbabwean wins than usual. Secondly, remember that 48 run Zim victory over South Africa? The South African team who infamously tied the semi-final against Australia and dropped the World Cup? It was South Africa whose duty was to carry Zimbabwe’s flame as potential Moral World Champions, and they had a decent chance of taking Zimbabwe to victory, yet failed at the semi-final hurdle. This time Pakistan are carrying Zimbabwe’s flame, so will South Africa 1999 prove a portent?

    For T20 World Cups, we dispense with 2010 (Zimbabwe finished winless, played neither finalist, and were beaten by Sri Lanka – the only semi-finalist they played – comfortably, despite losing only one wicket, as they reached 29/1 off 5 overs compared to a Duckworth-Lewis target of 44), 2012 (winless, thrashed by 82 runs by Sri Lanka, who in turn lost by 36 runs in the final) and 2016 (P3 W2 L1 but the wins were Scotland and Hong Kong, the loss was a big one to Afghanistan who were the only team to escape the Round 1 group – and became worthy Moral World Champions themselves by beating nobody else apart from eventual champions West Indies).

    Zimbabwe’s 2007 World T20 massive upset against eventual semi-finalists Australia merits an honourable mention. That tournament had a bizarre three-team group stage, and Zim lost their second and final match vs Eng so the whole group finished P2 W1 L1 and Zim lost out on NRR. Zimbabwe would have made cracking Moral World Champions, and Australia made a good bash of earning them the title, with a solid second group stage (P3 W2 L1) followed by a 15 run semi-final loss to eventual champions India.

    The 2014 World T20 had four-team groups of “minor” teams, with only the group-winner to go through and meet the big boys who joined at the Super 10. Zimbabwe beat Netherlands & UAE, but lost to Ireland: the Dutch topped the group on NRR, but went on to finish bottom in their Super 10 group having only beaten England, who were second-bottom having only beaten Sri Lanka… if you stretch it we get “Zim beat Ned beat Eng beat SL”. Since Sri Lanka won the tournament this means England were Moral World Champions – and good value for it, since it was a disastrous tournament in which they lost every other match, including a 45 run humiliation by the Netherlands. Arguably this makes the Dutch Moral Moral World Champions and Zimbabwe the Moral Moral Moral World Champions. Proof that Moral World Champions can happen, but not proof Zimbabwe can take the mantle directly.

    In summary, Pakistan clearly owe Zimbabwe a Moral World Championship for their final upset in 1992, and by winning this World Cup can deliver a morally satisfying one. They should do it for both teams, and maybe they could. But history is against them. Zimbabwe have not been MWC before, and whenever another team has had the chance to make it happen, their hopes have been dashed: South Africa (1999) and Australia (2007 T20) in the semi-finals and England (1992) in the final. Zimbabwe are relying on a stunning upset here. But by entrusting their Moral World Championship chances to Pakistan, have they found the one team perfectly positioned to deliver one?

    1. It’s on. After 14 World Cups of disappointment, Zimbabwe are just one final match from becoming Moral World Champion… But if history is any guide, the chances of a dramatic Pakistan collapse in the final have just shot up. Either way I’m going to claim that I called it.

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