South Africa have not won ‘a knockout match’ in any of the ICC tournaments since beating England in the Champions Trophy Quarter Final 2000 in Nairobi. Since their readmission, they have failed on big stage number of times. In World Cup 1992, they lost Semi Final. In World Cup 1996, they lost Quarter Final. In World Cup 1999, they couldn’t win Semi Final. In Champions Trophy 2000, they won Quarter Final but then lost Semi Final. In Champions Trophy 2002, they lost Semi Final against the same team which beat them in the previous edition – India. In Champions Trophy 2006, they lost Semi Final against West Indies. In World Cup 2007, they again lost Semi Final. In World Twenty20 2009, they lost another Semi Final. In World Cup 2011, they lost Quarter Final.
Today, at the Oval against England, they lost yet another high-octane game, yet another Semi Final. That’s now ten knockout matches where they have failed to excel and this list does not include the must-win games, like one against Sri Lanka in World Cup 2003 or against Pakistan in World Twenty20 2010. In England alone, they have squandered three times in fourteen years – World Cup 1999, World Twenty20 2009 and now Champions Trophy 2013.
South Africans are often termed as chokers, but this word wouldn’t suffice to their recent debacle against England. They didn’t choke. They were simply slammed. They lost so badly that it left you wondering if they really deserved to be at this stage. They reached Semis by winning only one match, against the weakest side of the competition, Pakistan. If Kieron Pollard had not lost his cool before the heavens opened up at Cardiff, South Africans wouldn’t be playing the Semis.
They even failed as individuals. AB de Villiers, number one in ODI Rankings, scored a duck, his first in six years. Hashim Amla, number two in the Rankings, scored only one. Last year when South Africa toured England for One Day series, Amla was the innings’ top scorer each time he batted.
A journalist mentioned Garry Kirsten at the post match presser about the choke jokes again getting popular on Twitter and suggested him they didn’t joke. But Kirsten didn’t beat around the bush and admitted they choked. “Let’s be honest. I think we choked in the game. We are getting comfortable with this uncomfortable word,” said Kirsten, who had his last game with South Africa as coach.
Kirsten now has seen South Africa failing in high-octane matches as player as well as coach. Although South Africa have won a Champions Trophy before[in Dhaka 1998], winning this tournament would have helped them in doing away with the chokers tag. Kirsten called the problem ‘dark mist’ and hoped South Africa would get away with it. “It is a dark mist which hangs cover South Africa in the knockout matches. At some point, we are going to cross the line,” he said.
England on the other hand are now just one game away from winning a 50-over global event for first time. They have won a World Twenty20 title, but never an ICC ODI tournament. England is the only team to host the Champions Trophy two times and on both occasions they reached the Final. They lost to West Indies in 2004 at the Oval, this time they again have a chance to add first 50-over silverware in their cabinet.
England’s strength can be gauged by their bench strength. An important member of the team, Graeme Swann, didn’t play Semi Final due to injury and his replacement, James Tredwell, took three wickets in a miser spell, conceding only 19 runs in seven overs. Tim Bresnan was on leave for birth of his baby and his proxy, Steven Finn, didn’t disappoint. Although Bresnan is likely to return in the playing XI when England meets India or Sri Lanka at Edgbaston on Sunday, having a bowler like Finn, who interestingly is World Number two in ICC ODI Rankings but living on the sidelines, reflects on England’s bench potency.
When the captain Alistair Cook was asked about the conundrum he is likely to face before Final if Swann gets fit, he called it “a good headache.”
Their batsmen have not let the team down but its England’s bowling which set up victories in this tournament. They successfully defended a target against Australia in Birmingham and then at Cardiff didn’t let New Zealand chase in the rain-affected game. And today their bowlers restricted South Africa to a paltry 175, easing out the pressure from their batting line up.
Cricket is game between bat and ball and final of the last Champions Trophy could just be it. It is all set to be a game between a team [England] having bowling its strength and a team [India or Sri Lanka] having batting its strength.
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