It won’t be too way off the mark to suggest that India is on track to upstage South Africa as the game’s biggest chokers.
South Africans had been the undisputed masters of bizarre collapses until now. Think Edgbaston (1999 World Cup semis), think Cape Town (when inexplicably, a bunch of grown-ups failed to comprehend simple arithmetic equations to devise the wackiest manner of exiting 2003 World Cup) or even the recent Tenty20 World Cup and the Champions Trophy, where having done the initial hard-work of staking claim to the favorites tag, they fizzled out so comprehensively, that even the theory of unpredictability seemed an insufficient justification.
<i>The link provides a run-down of the major chokes that South Africans have indulged in till January this year. (Prior to the Twenty20 WC and the Champions Trophy, because that’s when the piece was written).</i>
But things are changing.
The year 2009 has proved to be a threshold for Indian cricket, in the sense, this year Team India has taken their most rapid strides towards wresting the chokers tag from the South Africans.
Though not in the same league yet, Team India’s performance of late suggests that the potential, if given time, could blossom into fabulous results.
No. This blog has not been written to vent frustration at Indian team’s inability to make Sachin Tendulkar’s monumentally, fabulously, magnificently, marvelously crafted gem of an innings, the most polished 175 runs ever scored, count. The collapse in fact, was just the boiling point.
The cloak of ‘choke’ has been too apparent to miss.
The first trace was during the ICC Twenty20 World Cup 2009. Going in as the defending champions, India coasted through an easy group into the Super Eights.
Indians were favorites not only because they had won the title two years ago, but apparently because all their players were in the right groove, thanks to the preceding two- month long IPL extravaganza. After losing to an efficient West Indies, India faced a crunch must-win game against hosts England. Perhaps overweighed by the tag of favorites, India fell 3 runs short, making hash-weather of chasing a moderate target of 154 runs.
The choker-in-chief was Ravindra Jadeja who, with a 35-ball 25, ensured that the hosts extracted revenge for the defeat they suffered in similar circumstances two years ago.
We next lost to South Africa. It was a no pressure game as South Africa, the original chokers, were already through to the semis while India were on their way out.
So it was a battle between two teams with similar temperaments, though inconsequential with respect to the tourney, playing for the bragging rights.
With no scope of a choke, India choked first. From 48/0 in 6 overs, India unleashed a chain of logic defying activities, which they called batting, to go down by just 12 runs while chasing 131 to win.
Not to be outdone though, South Africa produced an incredible collapse themselves in the semi-finals against Pakistan to retain the chokers tag back then.
Next up was the Champions Trophy in South Africa.
Here too, India and South Africa matched each other choke for a choke to make early exits. Both were top seeds going into the tournament.
Yet another suicidal batting display, coupled with poor nerves, saw India crumble to a 54 run-defeat to Pakistan in what was billed as the glamour tie of the tournament. Indians were not outplayed by Pakistan, they played themselves out. If Gambhir’s run-out was foolhardy and needless (India were racing away after a good start despite Sachin’s early dismissal), Dravid’s rush of blood (65 runs were needed from 48 balls) remains one of the biggest mysteries of life. Suresh Raina, having brought India back into contention quite admirably, fell just when a cool head would have seen India through.
The match against Australia was watched out (thankfully) and India boarded the first flight home despite beating a depleted West Indies.
South Africans meanwhile kept up with India and managed to concede over 300 runs to Sri Lanka and even England, (yeah England scored 322!) and allowed the pressure of chasing a big target quite effortlessly to skillfully carve out yet another defeat.
Now… Over to the Hyderabad ODI.
Having allowed Australia to score 350 runs from 50 overs, (which in itself makes no sense as this was a second string side after all) India flattered, and flattered and flattered…only to deceive.
With Sachin going great guns, India closed in on 300 despite the fact that all their top guns fired blanks. When Sachin finally fell, India were just 19 runs away from winning the match and they had 17 balls left in their kitty, Ravindra Jadeja was well-set and Praveen Kumar (who walked in) was in a good nick.
Naturally you would back India. But ‘an Allan Donald moment’ for Jadeja (second consecutive time), and inexplicable ‘no to diving policy’ adopted by Praveen Kumar, saw India snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
India have done it. Now over to South Africa…