It's all in the mind: South Africa choke again in WC semifinal, this time in 'City of Joy'

It's all in the mind: South Africa choke again in WC semifinal, this time in 'City of Joy'

Kolkata, Nov 16 (PTI) Does South Africa have an inherited proclivity to self-sabotage on the biggest stage in sports? Maybe it doesn't. If choking deep into a global event is congenital, then how would one explain its total domination in rugby.

But at the other end of the spectrum is a never-ending saga of abject surrender in World Cup knockouts by the country's cricket team that forces even the eternal optimists to think otherwise.

With a lot of the young ones aiming to make a career out of either cricket or rugby studying in the same schools, living in the same cities and sharing the same neighbourhoods, it is baffling to see a country with a superabundance of cricketing talent failing to crack a code since its readmission into international cricket more than three decades ago.

South Africa, as is their wont, failed in the World Cup semifinals yet again after promising to deliver like never before, raising the oft-repeated questions that have been haunting them since their last-four clash of the 1992 edition against England.

The bucketful of inspirational stories from the Springboks' record fifth rugby World Cup triumph in Paris last month was not enough to motivate the Proteas into bucking the trend of losing at the knockouts of cricket's premier competition.

This was, though, after a spirited challenge from their bowlers who were entrusted with defending 212. They battled until Australia scraped through with three wickets and 16 balls to spare.

Among others, South Africa's 16 World Cup outings include a painful exit from the Super 6 stage at home in 2003 after a defeat to Sri Lanka thanks to rain and Duckworth/Lewis method, which also did them in '92.

In the 2011 World Cup semifinals, they collapsed from 108/2 to 172 all out after restricting New Zealand to a gettable 221.

The tide didn't turn for South Africa four years later as New Zealand again knocked them out in the semifinals stage.

As they lined up for their last-four clash against Australia here on Thursday, the South African cricketers were probably confronted with one of the most unwelcome tags in sport, their gallop through the league stage of the tournament doing little to take away the label of chokers.

A maelstrom of thoughts must have crossed their minds -- mostly negative from their heartbreaking loss to the Aussies in the semifinals of the 1999 edition -- when the Aussies had them on the ropes at a hopeless 24 for four in only the sixth over under grey skies at the Eden Gardens.

True the conditions were overcast at the start but it's not that all South African batters made Australian bowlers earn their wickets.

The team that was piling on totals in excess of 300, 350 and even 400 in the league matches of the showpiece froze when the big moment arrived, getting bowled out for 212 after batting by choice.

Had it not been for David Miller's rescue act that saw him compile a 116-ball 101, South Africa would have ended with far less than what they eventually got on the board.

Continuing his woeful run of form in the mega event, skipper Temba Bavuma poked at a Mitchell Starc delivery that landed on a length outside off, signalling the beginning of the slide. He failed to open his account.

In no time the South Africans were in all sorts of trouble as their rivals -- five-time champions in the World Cup -- looked to go for the kill. That Australia couldn't, was due to Miller's rearguard century.

Having failed to deliver with the bat in their earlier matches, the occasion was perfect for Bavuma to deliver, but he was sent back even before his opening partner Quinton de Kock could get his eye in at the other end.

He may have done well when marshalling his resources on the field but Bavuma, with the bat, was an utter failure.

Bavuma coming close to tripping near the boundary ropes on his way back to the dressing room gave a peek into his mindset and the team's inability to overcome nerves on the big day.

It was a far cry from the sight of Siya Kolisi tightly clutching the Webb Ellis Cup and raising it high after helping South Africa create history in rugby worlds, which they won a record fourth time in France.

On more than one occasion during the course of the tournament did Bavuma speak about receiving messages of encouragement from their rugby counterparts as they desperately looked to shed the C-Tag.

De Kock, the combative opener who plundered nearly 600 runs in a highly productive last World Cup appearance, too seemed susceptible on the day and departed after a 27-minute stay in the middle.

It was no different with the likes of Rassie van der Dussen and Aiden Markram, who have had decent outings in the team's preceding matches but they did not carry as much weight as the one here.

Now that it's all over for them, the SA cricketers would leave for home with only their baggage to boast of, less than a month after the rugby team returned to a hero's welcome.

It's all in the mind. And for SA that's not an empty adage too! PTI AH AH UNG

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