“Chokers” is a tag that haunts the South African cricket team. And unfortunately this tag will remain with the South African cricket team forever. In the past too, cricket analysts and former greats were simply unable to fathom as to why a team which has so much all-round talent like South Africa tripped in the big tournaments with regular consistency.
With names such as AB De Villiers, Hashim Amla, Dale Steyn, David Miller and Morne Morkel in their ranks, many thought it was their best ever chance for an elusive World Cup glory. There was no doubt whatsoever that the task ahead for skipper De Villiers was like climbing the Mount Everest. He was, after all, aiming to do what no South African skipper before him, be it Kepler Wessels, the late Hansie Cronje, Shaun Pollock and Graeme Smith, has done — lift the coveted World Cup.
One feels hard for De Villiers. He was the most innovative skipper to come out of South Africa. And if ever the Proteas stood a good chance of winning a World Cup, it was under his captaincy. After having led from the front the way he does best — with aggression and his own brilliant form — De Villiers would surely be gutted by the 2015 World Cup semifinal loss to Kiwis. It was once again a case of so near yet so far that South African players were in tears (even De Villiers was in tears at the post-match press conference) after the loss indicated how badly they wanted to win and how crestfallen they were.
So where did the Proteas lose their way? After winning the toss, South Africa were inching towards a mammoth total. With Faf Du Plessis and De Villiers batting brilliantly, the Proteas were heading for a 300-plus total. Though De Villiers towards the end struggled for runs , big-hitting David Miller’s cameo of 49 off 18 came at the right time as they finished at 281/5 in 43 overs. And when the D/L method came into force, the target was 298. The onus was now on the potent South African pace attack to stand tall.
But alas, it did not. What hurt South Africa most was the ineffectiveness of lead strike bowler Dale Steyn. In the big match, Steyn had no answer to the blistering attack by the Kiwi skipper Brendon McCullum. McCullum’s blitzkrieg 59 off 26 balls rattled the Proteas and Steyn in particular. Vernon Philander, Morne Morkel and Imran Tahir gave away a lot of runs and they were unable to tie down the Kiwi batsmen.
Normally very sharp on the field, the South African fielding let them down. New Zealand hero Grant Elliott (84 off 73 balls) was in fact dropped twice as he powered them to a memorable win. Adding to the woes of the Proteas was the rare run-out chances missed by De Villiers and Quinton de Kock.
Ironically, the final telling blow of the match came from the South Africa-born Kiwi batsman Grant Elliott. He powerfully drove the second-last ball of the match, by Steyn, for six over long-on to fashion an improbable Kiwi victory by 4 wickets and a ball to spare by the ( D/L).