Can SA shed ‘chokers’ tag?

Weary of its reputation of being unable to win the big match, South Africa gets another chance to rid itself of the ”choker” label with another trip to the Cricket World Cup semifinals.

Wednesday’s match against Australia will be the third time the Proteas have reached the final four at cricket’s showpiece since emerging from apartheid-era isolation at the 1992 World Cup.

Captain Graeme Smith said he thought South Africa had shed its late-tournament stumbler notoriety when it beat England resoundingly in its final Super Eights match to qualify for the last four. But Australia has been quick to point out the Proteas’ habit of falling at the last hurdle.

Cricket has been cruel to South Africa and its attempts to win the World Cup.

In 1992 in Australia, South Africa needed a tough but gettable 22 from 13 balls against England when it started to rain. When the rain stopped, pre-Duckworth/Lewis calculations decided that South Africa now needed the impossible 21 from one ball and was eliminated.

In 1999, at Birmingham’s Edgbaston ground, the loss was almost more painful as the two teams tied and South Africa was eliminated because it already had lost to Australia earlier in the tournament.

The ICC has excluded that outcome for Wednesday’s semifinal against Australia, because semifinals will now be settled by a ”bowl out” in the case of a tie.

Australia, always quick to focus on their opposition’s mental weaknesses, says it senses fear among the South Africans.

Matthew Hayden, top of the batting rankings in the tournament, said he noticed it during the 83-run victory over South Africa in the group stage.

”Last time we played better than them, and you could tell by the looks on their faces they were intimidated by us,” Hayden said after smashing the World Cup’s fastest century during his 101 off 68 balls as Australia reached 377 for six.

”I definitely sensed that,” he said. ”It is an edge which came from many years of beating them. It was just body language. You could feel that they could feel it.”

Jacques Kallis is a batsman frequently targeted by the Australians, a compliment that implicitly acknowledges his threat as a scorer.

Kallis is one of four survivors from the dramatic tied semifinal against Australia in the 1999 World Cup at Edgbaston, along with Shaun Pollock, Mark Boucher and Herschelle Gibbs.

All four say the experience of playing in that game would have positive benefits.

”From our side we gained a lot of experience in that game,” Kallis said. ”Looking back there are a few things that we might have tried to do differently so the experience we’ve carried around for all these years will probably stand us in good stead.”

While Australia has been in top form at the World Cup, South Africa won the last competition between the two teams 3-2, winning the last match by overhauling Australia’s world record one-day international score of 434. ‒ Sapa-AP

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