Way back at the 1999 World Cup when South Africa were playing against Australia, Herschelle Gibbs dropped a very important catch of skipper Steve Waugh who went on to score a match-winning 120 not out, helping Australia win that match to advance to the semi-finals in which they played South Africa again.
The word spread after the dropped catch that Steve Waugh had told Gibbs that he might have just dropped the World Cup!
This is when the South African squad earned the title of chokers and the name remains attached to them although they are one of the top cricketing nations with some very experienced and talented players. Their inability to win any major world title like the World Cup, World Twenty20 or Champions Trophy has confirmed the tag ‘chokers’.
They were unlucky in 1992 World Cup, their first, when rain stopped their semi-final against England at a stage when they needed 22 runs from 13 balls. When they returned they were given 22 to score off just one ball because of the stupid formula devised then for rain-affected matches.
In 1996, one of the favourites, they were beaten in the quarter-final by West Indies in Karachi. Chasing a modest target of 265, South Africa got all out on 245.
In 1999 World Cup semifinal against Australia at Edgbaston, South Africa needed only one run from the last four balls of the match but the last pair on the crease had a terrible mix-up and got run out. The game ended in a tie and Australia reached the final with a better record in the qualifying round.
In the 2003 World Cup that was held in South Africa, the hosts failed to qualify for Super- 8 stage.
In 2007 World Cup semifinal in West Indies, Australia bowled out the Proteas for just 149 after South Africa won the toss and elected to bat. Australia chased the target in just 31.3 overs for the loss of 3 wickets.
In 2011 at Dhaka, South Africa failed to chase 223 against New Zealand in the quarter-final, bowled out for 172 in the 44th over. At one stage they were 108-2 in the 25th over but lost their last seven wickets for only 64 runs.
The South Africans’ performance in the 2015 World Cup group matches was average; they lost against India and Pakistan but won against West Indies, Scotland, Zimbabwe and UAE. In the quarter-final, Proteas bowled out Sri Lanka for just 133 and reached the target with the loss of one wicket.
After their first-ever knockout stage win, the South African team and fans were confident of being able to beat New Zealand in the semi-final, but the history repeated itself and South Africa suffered yet another World Cup semi-final defeat as they lost by four wickets at Auckland’s Eden Park, in a thrilling finish.
The main difference between the two sides was the start provided by their openers. South Africa, choosing to bat first scored 39-2 off ten overs, while on the other hand skipper McCullum hammered 71-0 in first five overs that kept the foundation of a tough chase.
After another unfortunate loss the South African cricketers were speechless and lay on the ground with tears in their eyes.
It is interesting that South Africa are called chokers, but New Zealand were never given such a name although their record had been worse before this World Cup as the Kiwis lost six world cup semi-finals from 1975 to 2011.
In 1975 New Zealand lost to West Indies by five wickets. In 1979 England beat Kiwis by nine runs. In 1992 at their home ground they were beaten by Pakistan by four wickets in the semi-final. In that World Cup they had won all matches except the last league match against Pakistan. In 1999 New Zealand lost the semi-final to Pakistan by 9 wickets in England. New Zealand’s unfortunate run continued in 2007 in West Indies when they lost to Sri Lanka by 81 runs. The Kiwis completed double hat-trick of losing semi-finals when in 2011 Sri Lanka beat them by five wickets.