At the end of the Super 8s, two teams are confronted with “hard questions”.
For South Africa, just 1 ICC Champions Trophy in 1998 from an overall attendance at 14 ICC tournaments, it has become a national trait. Barring their first world cup in 1992 when they got chucked out of the semi final due to a dubious rain rule, their subsequent exits have always been completely against the run of play, to use a common cliche.
Take the 1996 World Cup. Five wins in five matches to top their group. In the quarterfinals, they play West Indies who lost to Kenya in their group games, forfeited two points for not playing their game against Sri Lanka in Colombo and to most observers were mostly write offs. On March 11, 1996, the favourites South Africa led by Hansie Cronje faced Richie Richardson’s West Indies in Karachi. They thought it was a simple thing. Three things happened to them
1. Brian Lara, who till then had an average tournament, pulled out a stunner scoring 111 off 94 balls and helped WI set a target of 265. (WI 264/8 in 50 overs). I remember snatches of that game and Lara showed why he would become one of the best batsmen in contemporary cricket.
2. RSA started badly losing Gary Kirsten for 21 but then Hudson, Cullinan and Cronje played peacefull and RSA were comfortable at 180 / 3.
3. Roger Harper and Jimmy Adams took 5 wickets (7 overall) to bring RSA from 180 / 3 to 228 / 7 leaving Pat Symcox, Craig Matthews and Paul Adams to score the balance in the end overs. They did not.
The best team were out. RSA had no answer. They played WI the way they played UAE and Netherlands and other teams in their group. There was a sense of being shell shocked with the Lara century and then as wickets fell to offies and chinamen, they simply gave up.
This T20 World Cup, RSA came in with some of the best T20 players of world (Incidentally, they have maximum players in the IPL after India and almost all of them are part of their world cup squad). Ostensibly, the best team. And they are out.
The introspection into what may well become a national trait has begun:
“We again could not cope with the pressure,” Van Zyl told http://www.sport24.com. “The question has to be asked why we could not manage it and why it happens repeatedly. Is it our approach to batting? Is it our general approach? Or are we maybe too tentative? Those are the questions you need to ask yourself.
Coming to India, will save my breadth and instead borrow words from Prem.
That is the statistic that caught the eye — but what remains in the mind the afternoon after the defeat is a series of impressions. Of an ‘attack’ without a strike bowler [Harbhajan Singh, who had to play that role in a side where Zaheer Khan was way under par, ended the tournament without a single wicket to his name. He is bowling “beautifully”, commentators repeatedly told us — but whatever the artistic merits of his bowling, the central fact is that he could never strike]. Of a team that seemed to have been picked from a home for the walking wounded — a clearly unfit Gambhir, a Zaheer Khan who seems to be suffering from some mysterious injury that comes and goes, a Praveen Kumar who had to leave the tournament halfway through, to join the long list of Indian ‘pace bowlers’ in various stages of injury and rehabilitation, a Yuvraj Singh whose tournament and indeed recent form was best encapsulated by that moment, in the early part of the Lankan innings, when he let a ball pass through his palms, and between his legs… Add to that the ‘form’ of that fearsome finisher, Yusuf Pathan; the presence in the side of Ravindra Jadeja, whose preparation for this tournament consisted of practicing in the backyard with his brother; the lack of clarity about Rohit Sharma’s presence in, and utility to, the side… India has stumbled badly before — actually, thrice in world level competitions in the past 12 months alone — but rarely has the team under MS Dhoni looked quite so shambolic.
The contrast between the grit and resolution of V Anand, defending world champion, and the spiritless sojourn of MSD’s team, former world champions, is simply bizarre, if not hilarious.