Did South Africa choke?

Anytime South Africa lose in a world cup, the choking tag is used. Not to say they haven’t earned it, but it does get a bit much. And since I say it more than most, I know it’s a bit much.

So instead of deciding on whether South Africa choked or not, let’s pretend this was a match between Sri Lankan and England. Sri Lanka and South Africa have similar teams, both have essentially five front line bowlers, amazing top orders and their weakness seems to be the middle order.

If Sri Lanka had restricted England to 171, and then at the 30 over mark required 54 runs in 20 overs with seven wickets in hand, and lost, would you’d think Sri Lanka had choked?

Or that their middle order had simply not worked.

To me, there is a difference between a fragile middle order and a team who loses 7/41.

Sri Lanka’s chase was going along comfortable, they were above the run rate, had wickets in hand and their number five was finding it hard to score, but importantly still scoring at a rate that would ensure his team a victory.

Then they had a collapse, including a run out, and suddenly they had given England a sniff. This collapse was 4/3, and it hurt bad. It was panicky and ugly, but they fought back.

The game wasn’t over, and they edged their way up to the score with handy batting, yet again at a run rate that was enough to easily win them the match. This was a hard pitch to score on. When this 8th wicket partnership was together, four of their first five overs was from the fifth and sixth bowlers, who’d already bowled more than the 10 overs needed between them, and were now just taking overs away from the front line bowlers. The 8th wicket partnership had scored 33 runs in 9.2 overs, more than fast enough to get them to their total without needing risks.

Then they took the powerplay, and it was a mistake not to use it before the 30th over, a mistake that most teams would have made.

When the partnership was broken, all the tail needed to do was eek out another 12 runs from four overs with two wickets in hand. They’d built themselves into the second situation where they should have won the game. It wasn’t as rock tight as the first one, but with one half of the partnership well set, two wickets in hand, and a very gentle run rate to contend with, they should have won the game from there as well.

They didn’t.

Now, if this were Sri Lanka, and you saw the panicky dismissals and two sudden collapses from a team who were chasing 171 to win, I don’t think you’d be wrong to say that Sri Lanka had choked under the pressure.

Not everyone would say it. Some would point to the batting powerplay, Broad’s bowling at the death and middle order as reasons as well, but without the pressure of the chase getting to the batting team, there is no way they would have lost this game. England did not bowl unplayable balls, they did not even use their main bowlers enough, their fifth and sixth bowlers took 1/76 in 16 overs while the three pacemen couldn’t bowl out and took 7/58 from 20.4.

Any team losing from this position did so because of pressure. England played as well, you can’t lose from that position without your opposition playing well.

Now think about South Africa again, and the choke meter (it’s like the crowd cheering meter, it doesn’t really exist) goes off the chart.

Millions use the word choke, far more than is really needed for a group game that has little meaning for the standings of the tournament.

That doesn’t mean they didn’t choke.

For South Africa to win the world cup from here would be one of the best performances in any world cup ever. They have to beat the tag, their own insecurities and their middle order whilst taking on the opposition.

They might not choke again in this tournament, they also probably can’t win it now.

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41 thoughts on “Did South Africa choke?

  1. Tickers says:

    Not every close defeat is a choke, but some people are now so (understandably) sick of the overused ‘choking Saffers’ tag they seem to have gone completely the other way and drawn the false conclusion that every close defeat is not a choke.

    The Saffers choked today. Twice.

  2. BostonAngler says:

    I’m sure it’s 80% the legacy of 1999 that plonks the ‘c’hoker’ tag on their heads. As you say, though, it doesn’t mean they didn’t choke.

  3. Wes ~PFCNFS~ says:

    The England of the last weeks calling someone else chokers is of course a joke. I think we saw a classical lowscoring nailbiter on a deadly deck, and in such matches it happens that a vicious and confident attack tears the batting apart for very little (although opening with Yardy may have sent out a different sign), a single wicket on such a pitch can make all reason and nerves fly out the window. It doesn’t make the result any less disappointing especially the performance of the above mentioned mentally fragile lower order, I could not believe my eyes. But we have seen Blackwater veterans lose control over their bowel contents while facing Broad, so.

    • jrod says:

      Wes, who said it was England calling them chokers, I thought it was all cricket fans?

      Rohan, If you think that them losing a winnable game in a world cup isn’t important, then you need to follow South Africa world cup history. Until they win this tournament every game is important to them, even those that seemingly have less riding on them.

  4. Rohan says:

    I’d have to disagree. This wasn’t a choke, because a choke, by definition, has to have something incredibly important riding on the result. Let’s not forget that the choking South Africa are really famous for happens after the league stages (the league stages being where they look the best team of the bunch). This was just a meltdown, and every team has one of those, as Wes pointed out above.

    South Africa’s choking will come in the knock-outs, probably as early as the Quarter Finals. But this wasn’t it.

  5. Lemon Bella says:

    The point is not whether losing from that position is or isn’t choking, it’s that if Sri Lanka had lost this match no journalist would have called them chokers.

  6. I’m not covinced it was a choke either, as Rohan pointed out it was a group game that they can afford to lose. I’m not saying it wasn’t important as it will be a massive blow to them, but it also wasn’t a win or die match.

    Jrod, might you be referring to the Australia game at Headingley in 1999 that SA didn’t need to win? But in hindsight they did.

    • jrod says:

      Dean, No, I’m referring to the fact that by losing a game that is not important to their standings, it doesn’t mean it isn’t important to South Africa. By losing this they now must be thinking about the choking tag, I doubt they are thinking they way you and Rohan are, to them this game mattered, even if it didn’t to their tournament standings. And in the media their will be talk of choking again and every single mistake will be over analysed.

  7. mspr1nt says:

    Okay, Uncle J….you’ve had me in a tizz after our conversation Twitter. I’ve thought about it and…..this is what I wrote in my Holding Willey post-match piece:

    “Call me deluded, but I don’t subscribe to the idea that South Africa choked. The most commonly used argument against that notion is that “they really should have won it when they were 124-4. Really. Should they? Who decides that? Considering England found themselves in a similar position (114-4) only to be skittled out for under 180 how can you say that South Africa ‘really should have won’ on a deteriorating pitch? Can you not then say that England really should have posted a bigger total?”

    My thoughts stand, and I’d have felt the same if it were Sri Lanka. I think the difference today was a key partnership. Trott and Bopara were magnificent and I think South Africa were taking by surprised by Strauss’ erratic and somewhat odd bowling decisions. They were outplayed because there was nobody in the batting line up to take the game by the balls. Some of it is inexperience, some of it could be arrogance. They thought they had it in the bag and instead of building partnerships they played dumb shots and made stupid decisions and had their arses handed to them.

    That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

    • jrod says:

      Ant, 124/3. If they didn’t think they really should chase 171 when they need less than 3 an over with 7 wickets in hand, then perhaps choking isn’t their main problem.

  8. Wes ~PFCNFS~ says:

    Jarrod, unspoken thoughts. Most of the c-related laughter in my timeline/newsfeed originated from inhabitants of the Silly Island.

    • jrod says:

      Wes, mine were mostly by Indians and Australians. Could it not have been that more English fans were just watching it while you looked at your timeline?

  9. Wes ~PFCNFS~ says:

    Even if so, it does not disprove my point of the absurdity of a choker calling an alleged choker a choker. ^^

    • jrod says:

      Wes, I’ve never understood that logic, if a South African was watching Australia lose to Sri Lanka last year, and they called them a choker, they have every right too, as Australia clearly choked. Your nationality doesn’t stop you pointing out something you believe. In fact, the opposite is true because you know chocking well as you’ve seen your side do it. I’ve learnt much about choking whilst following Victoria.

  10. Wes ~PFCNFS~ says:

    Of course everybody is free to point fingers at each other for the same faults. No doubt! It’s like when players or officials come under scrutiny for not quite adhering to the rules or a certain consensus, and instead of standing in the corner ashamedly and sorting their stuff out they wait impatiently until someone else slips up and then start screeching and flailing. I guess that’s human nature.

  11. mspr1nt says:

    Like I said, I don’t think coking is the biggest problem at the moment.

  12. Howe Zat says:

    I don’t give a fuck whether or not they choked. I’m sick of hearing the word. I’m especially sick of hearing it whenever South Africa lose. Cricket journalists, of all people, have better stuff to write about.

  13. Howe Zat says:

    Well played!

    I only do what’s asked of me. I don’t have the inginuity to think up stuff of my own after all.

    Apologies that my comment seemed a bit ranty. But yeah, I do get annoyed with only hearing the word when South Africa lose. It may happen, it may not, but for some reason it the minds of so many it only happens to South Africa, who always do it. Bizarre.

  14. Ameya says:

    HoweZat, the word does not get used only when the Saffers lose. It gets used when they repeatedly lose clearly winnable games. Deteriorating pitch or not, this was a game that any top-rated side should have won. 171 after all, with (as Jrod pointed out) KP and the non-cricketer Yardy bowling 16 overs! Nobody would call it a choke if they got bowled out for 220, chasing say, 350! That’s simply getting outplayed.

  15. Singaravel says:

    Hi J, its a long time since you have written about Sehwag, the protagonist, prophet and our saviour. How did you miss placing a post for his 175 in WC opening match?

    • jrod says:

      Singaravel, Sehwagology really only does things for me during tests, ODIs and T20s it never quite feels as strong.

  16. Ameya says:

    Saffa choking from today’s game –

    1. The Plessis dismissal. Where was he running off to?
    2. The Duminy dismissal – Outrageous shot selection in the situation, from a quality player. The delivery was fairly ordinary – A defensive prod would have done just fine.
    3. Peterson’s fidgety innings – He looked like getting out every ball. Normally, a staid crease occupier.

    Fragile lower middle order? I think not. Scrambled thinking, when the heat was on, IMHO. And this occurs far too frequently.

  17. David says:

    I’ve always figured choking as grasping defeat from the jaws of victory, especially when the stakes are high. Okay, the stakes weren’t high in this game, but SA still should have won from the position they were in.

  18. Christopher says:

    Choke or no choke, what a game! England are top class entertainment this world cup and that was an awesome one dayer.

  19. Sagar says:

    All, I think its semantics I feel….Use whatever word you use but Saffers couldn’t handle pressure….simple. If choke in your dictionary means that, they choked.

    Now, saffers don’t like that word. It rekindles all kind of bad memories for them.

    So all who are against saffers can happily yell at top of our voices – Choke…Choke…Choke…Chokeeeeeeeeeeeee!

    I can call it “Unable to perform under pressure and maintain composure”

    But I wouldn’t……Smith and Gang – More you run away from that word, the world will hurl it at every moment of opportunity.

  20. hms says:

    The reason SA didn’t win past Wcs inspite of having arguably the best teams was early domination and sudden collapses in crucial knockout stages. This time they hired psychology experts to develop a great strategy. It involved losing a winnable “doesn’t matter” match and getting the team to experience panic so a choke doesn’t happen in the later stages as in past WCs.

  21. you know the coolest thing ever of this scene was this tweet by Biff

    What ever you all say, Scientist Pavlov should have been so excited right now, and would have already started whole new experiment and it would have been called.

    “The Lack of Saliva Experiment – The Choke”

    And I don’t even have to say what Sigmund Freud have been doing right now. He would have interviewed whole Saffa team and would have made them convince that “Yes, The “C” Word was in their mind” As soon as AbDv was gone.

    I mean think about it, they were on cruising mode 3 times, but they managed to loose it.

    1) when Amla was batting. 2) when ABDv was batting 3) when they had to score only 12 runs and Van Wyk got out.

    They didn’t have to chase 200+ it was 30 runs less. They didn’t give wickets to Swann on a turning pitch. They gave it to medium pacers!!

  22. All said and done, the tag will never go away till they win a World Cup…its just that, the spectacular ways they have managed to crash out of World Cups has established the ‘C’ word, firmly as their own. The match against England did nothing to dispel that notion, despite it not being a do-or-die game.

  23. raghu says:

    JRod , Is this post a record for your interventions?

  24. Abigail says:

    It was indisputably a choke.

  25. Moses says:

    South Africa outchoked England in a pretty shit, though ultimately close and tense match.

    The reason? England had only 4 South Africans in their team, so didn’t posess the choking pedigree of the pure bred South African outfit.

  26. Matt says:

    Had the saffers won, I reckon everyone would happily be talking about how they narrowly avoided the choke, or said they were lucky to win in spite of clearly choking.

    To lose to the poms,
    who aust pumped 6-1
    who watched while a minnow, lower order biffer shaved 16 balls off the fastest wc ton
    who can only confidently predict victory against the canadians and kenyans
    who are a much, much shitter team than South Africa
    Is a choke.

  27. Suprise says:

    I reckon they were just getting their choke on in the group stage so they get it out of the way.

    That or their retirement funds needed topping up.

  28. Phred says:

    They choked. Pure and simple. And we love it! Just like that time they miscalculated and harmlessly played away the last ball thinking they’d won. What dumbass team secures the winning run, then wonders why there’s another ball being bowled, and blocks it away, instead of MAKING SURE of the win with extra runs?

    Proud people, Saffies. But there’s something very wrong with them.

  29. I heard that miscalculated D/L game described as a choke the other day, how can that be choking?

    I think the term is totally over used.

    Maybe to save confusion, SA should from now on include it as part of their name.

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