TORONTO - This had to be the mother of all chokes.
In 1992 when I was at Edgbaston, England, covering the Cricket World Cup for the Toronto Star, I thought I witnessed the biggest letdown of all time when South Africa was ousted in the semifinals by eventual champion Australia. Boy was I wrong. Yesterday’s loss to New Zealand tops it.
On that previous occasion South Africa required nine off the last over. Lance Klusener hit two fours off Damien Fleming from the first two balls. One run off four balls would be no problem, right? A mix-up between Klusener and Allan Donald saw Donald stranded giving the Aussies an unlikely victory.
Apparently it was at this match when the legendary “c” word first came into being. And, in a strange twist of irony, Donald is now bowling coach of New Zealand.
South Africa’s star-studded World Cup squad arrived on the Indian sub-continent last month, determined to once and for all bury the “choke” label that has haunted it since that day. And this edition of the team had good reason to be upset when the word was uttered as press conferences. After all South Africa is one of the top three teams in the world and was strong in every facet of the game.
But some reporters realized how easy it would be to ruffle the South Africans. Ace all-rounder Jacques Kallis fired back at one: “They should go and look up the meaning of chokers in the dictionary first.”
Had they, those same reporters probably noticed a group picture of the Proteas illustrating the word. And, there will be no respite for the Proteas when they board that flight back to Johannesburg as that dreaded word will be ringing in their ears again.
Upsets add spice to any tournament but what took place inside the bowels of the Shere Bangla Stadium in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Friday will be talked about for years. South Africa was the second favourite to land the trophy it has never won, while few gave the Black Caps, who have never reached the final, a chance of advancing to the semis. New Zealand’s next opponent will be the winner of Saturday’s semi between England and Sri Lanka. Pakistan takes on India in the other.
South Africa’s skipper Graeme Smith did a creditable job in the field with his bowling changes to restrict New Zealand to 221 for eight. New Zealand started off badly, losing its first two wickets for 16 before Jesse Ryder (83) and Ross Taylor (43) came to the rescue with a stand of 124. Kane Williamson’s late fling for 38 helped New Zealand surpass 200.
Facing such a small total, South Africa motored easily to 108 for three when the wheels came off following Kallis’ dismissal for 47. Nerves set in as it lost its next three wickets for 20 runs before being bundled out for 172. The 6-foot-6, man-of-the-match, Jacob Oram, captured four for 39 and Nathan McCallum three for 24 as they demolished the Proteas to maintain a proud record of six out of 10 appearances in the semis.
“There are no words to describe how I feel,’’ said a devastated Smith. “Just have to take it on the chin. Very disappointing evening. I thought we bowled pretty well. Credit to Jesse Ryder.”
He had no answer as to why South Africa keeps failing to perform at the World Cup.
“Your guess is as good as mine, it’s been happening since 1992. We have got some big positives out of the World Cup. We weren’t good enough tonight, but we have to take it forward and not get bogged down. We are disappointed with tonight, and nothing I say is going to change that for fans back home.’’