World Cup 2023 Semifinal SA vs AUS | Can South Africa overcome its knockout phobia and Australia?

Repeated reverses at this stage have earned Proteas the bitter tag ‘chokers’ and captain Bavuma admits that players feel ‘anxiety’ heading into this pressure match; Men in Yellow, ruthless customers at the business end, will have the services of Maxwell

November 15, 2023 10:37 pm | Updated 10:50 pm IST - Kolkata

South Africa’s Keshav Maharaj and Andile Phehlukwayo during a practice session ahead of the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup 2023 semifinal between Australia and South Africa.

South Africa’s Keshav Maharaj and Andile Phehlukwayo during a practice session ahead of the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup 2023 semifinal between Australia and South Africa. | Photo Credit: DEEPAK KR

 As a semifinal clash with Australia approaches on Thursday, it is time for South Africa to confront the ghost of World Cups past. There are regrets galore, especially when it comes to knockout matches and Australia.

The spirit reveals the most distressing vision of the 1999 World Cup semifinal, when Allan Donald and Lance Klusener sunk into brain fade mode to let the Aussies through to the final. Travel to 2007, where a shocking South African batting collapse made it an easy day out for Australia in another last-four game.

Even going all the way back to 1992, South Africa exited the semifinal stage at the hands of a cruel rain rule. From needing 22 runs off 13 balls when showers interrupted play, Brian McMillan and Dave Richardson returned to the crease with an impossible task of getting 21 runs from one delivery.

Two quarterfinal defeats, in 1996 and 2011, and semifinal slip in 2015, add to South Africa’s nightmares. These repeated reverses have led to many terming the national team as “chokers” — the equivalent of a harsh cuss word in the world of professional sport.

This South African squad may not carry these scars, but captain Temba Bavuma was honest to admit that players feel “anxiety” heading into this pressure match.

At the Eden Gardens, the Proteas will be desperate to finally let go of all the pain. Only a win can create a new, positive discourse.

Australia’s record in crunch games, on the other hand, is second to none. Through the years, the sides have been forged into ruthless machines by the likes of Allan Border, Steve Waugh, Ricky Ponting and Michael Clarke — World Cup-winning captains all.

The knack of finding unstoppable momentum came to the fore in this tournament as well. The Aussies were thought to be down and out after losing their first two encounters, before going on an unbeaten seven-game rampage.

Glenn Maxwell’s remarkable unbeaten 201 against Afghanistan served as a reminder of Australia’s indomitable spirit. Maxwell, expected to be fit for this game, will be South Africa’s biggest threat. Opener David Warner and Mitchell Marsh are in good nick too, while leg-spinner Adam Zampa is the tournament’s leading wicket-taker.

Australia was whipped by South Africa in the league stage, but there is no sense of panic among Pat Cummins’ men, who, just like their predecessors, know how to turn it on when it matters most.

Rain could pose the only dampener in what should be a thrilling contest. The sell-out crowd expected at this storied venue will hope that the reserve day is not put into use.

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