A brief discussion on choking in cricket

Ritesh Misra Roar Guru

By , Ritesh Misra is a Roar Guru

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    Vikram Sathaye, a terrific cricket humorist and author of the book How Sachin destroyed my life is an excellent mimic.

    In one of his mimicries of Geoff Boycott, he asked Mohammed Azharuddin, “so Azhar, what’s the plan?” and the answer – in Azhar’s typical style – was “not much; bat well, bowl well, field well”.

    It would be wishful thinking to say playing international cricket and winning matches is so easy. Often, despite one’s best efforts, one is not able to bat, bowl or field well and squanders a winning position – “snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.” This situation is often termed as choking.

    Generally speaking, choking in cricket is when a team in a winning position proceeds to lose the match. A less common variant would be if a team in a neutral position, instead of showing and proving its domination to take a winning position, loses its way and assumes an inferior position instead.

    The cricket team most associated with choking is South Africa.

    The first time choking became popularly associated with the South African team was in the 1999 World Cup semi finals in Birmingham against Australia.

    Shaun Pollock’s 5-36 was instrumental in restricting Australia to 213. However, Shane Warne took four wickets and the final over saw South Africa needing nine runs with one wicket in hand.

    Lance Klusener smashed two boundaries off the first two balls off Damien Fleming and his team suddenly needed only one run with four balls left. Donald survived one run out, but was run out on the very next ball, resulting in a tie.

    Australia proceeded to the final as they had finished higher in the Super 6 Stages.

    Earlier too South Africa had shown signs of choking.

    In the 1993 Hero Cup semi against India – in front of a huge Eden Gardens crowd – the South Africans messed up an easy chase of 195. In the last over, with two wickets left, South Africa needed six for a win and the big all-rounder Brian Macmillan was at the crease, but at the non-striker’s end.

    Fanie de Villiers took a single and should have stayed put to give Brian the strike but he went for a second run and ran himself out. Allan Donald could not manage a single run over the next three balls and only made a single on the fifth. Macmillan needed a four in the last ball but could only take a single, gifting India a three-run win.

    Another occurrence was a Test match at the New Wanderers Stadium, Johannesburg, the first Test of the 2013-14 series.

    India had set a huge target of 466, but centuries by AB De Villiers and Faf Du Plessis took South Africa close to what seemed a certain win – at one stage they were 4/402 with 48 required in 13 overs and both centurions at the crease.

    Inexplicably they lost three more wickets and could not close it out, finishing at 7/450. Later, then-South African skipper Graeme Smith said the team did not show enough desire for a win. The Indian team spokesman Virat Kohli also said he was shocked that the Proteas did not win.

    The final example is of yet another World Cup, this one in home conditions where it was said South Africa choked in the dressing room.

    It was conveyed to Mark Boucher that as per Duckworth-Lewis Method six was required for a win. He hit a massive six and raised his arms in celebration, before blocking the next ball to walk off when the rains poured down.

    Sadly, seven was what was actually required and the miscommunication meant that once again South Africa, in consecutive World Cups, had messed it up to turn a sure win into a tie.

    With these examples let us analyse what exactly is choking. As said earlier, a team sometimes cannot close out a win. Why?

    Firstly, one thinks too much. One gets anxious. Accordingly, the bowling suddenly appears more penetrative and batting appears more difficult.

    There is pressure, there are nerves and choking happens. The solution – don’t think much.

    When Australia scored 434 in an ODI in 2006, Jacques Kallis told his teammates, ‘Hey this is a 450 pitch, they are 15 short’.

    A hungover Herschelle Gibbs then smashed his way to 175 to help South Africa to an epic win.

    Next is a lack of communication. If one sees the video of Klusener blasting Damien Fleming for two boundaries in that famous 1999 match at Edgbaston, one can see that both Klusener and Donald are in their respective creases.

    Thereafter there were two consecutive run out chances and one was convered, much to the horror of the batting side.

    Proper communication would have helped and also calmed down nerves.

    When Boucher lost the plot and defended a delivery after assuming they had won after hitting a six, it was another example of improper communication.

    Over expectation is linked to thinking too much. One has huge expectations especially when one is a highly ranked team with match-winners. Translating that into actual winning is difficult.

    Finally, past history plays a role. Every South African team will have the burden of previous chokes or meltdowns weighing on their mind, whether they are batting or bowling or fielding. Such a burden is not conducive to putting in match winning performances.

    Currently the number one ODI team in the world, South Africa has crashed out of yet another ICC Tournament, the ongoing Champions Trophy.

    They will be looking forward to regrouping, planning and making a charge at winning the 2019 World Cup.

    Sadly, until they win a major tournament, the chokers tag will remain with them.