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.
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.