Are South Africa shedding the chokers tag?

South Africa is one of the top title contenders. (PC:

Around the 16th over of the England innings, Aiden Markram started showing signs of frustration. Harry Brook and Liam Livingstone had started finding the boundary with alarming regularity to bring the target down to manageable limits. The South Africa skipper was removing his cap and putting it on again, murmuring to himself at times. There were creases of concern on his forehead.

For everyone who has followed South Africa’s journey in big events, a familiar story was unfolding. They were once again letting the advantage slip at the important stage of a competition. Like they had so many times — most famously in the 50-over World Cup semi-finals in 1999 and 2015 — this one too seemed to be getting away as the target became 25 off three overs from 77 off six.

They needed some brilliance or a slice of luck. Livingstone handed them the second by hitting Kagiso Rabada’s full toss into the hands of the fielder in the deep. For a team which has historically flattered to deceive, this rub of the green was oxygen. Rabada, Marco Jansen and Anrich Nortje bowled three tidy overs, Markram held a blinder of a catch, and South Africa were smiling.

The seven-run win, which seemed unlikely after Ottneil Baartman conceded 21 in the 17th over, highlighted by five full tosses, was not a case in isolation. In the group stage of this T20 World Cup, South Africa had to dig deep and hold their nerve in the end to eke out a four-run win against Bangladesh, and they then beat Nepal by a solitary run.

Narrow escape is one way of describing them. Snatching wins when the match seemed gone is another. In the case of this South African team, the second seems more appropriate. They hung in there, bowled timely dot balls, held important catches and took late wickets to pull the rug from under the feet of their opponents right at the end. This needs steel, not just luck.

This is not coming to a conclusion that the cricketers from the Rainbow Nation have been cured of the ailment. They have not qualified for the semi-finals yet, just raised hopes of doing so. A big defeat against the West Indies could still knock them out, if England post a huge win against the USA. It will all come back to square one in that eventuality.

But, this T20 World Cup has perhaps seen South Africa taking the first step towards shedding the ‘C’ word. They were branded chokers not on the basis of an anti-climactic defeat in one tournament. They got that name after a number of such incidents following their only ICC tournament triumph, at the inaugural Champions Trophy in 1998.

Similarly, they have to win more against the big teams in the business end of tournaments to prove that they don’t suffer from that syndrome any more. It won’t happen in the course of one tournament. It will take time and require patience, alongside consistency in performance. One T20 World Cup is inadequate time for this transformation to take place.

Then, as they say, a start has been made. Rabada bowling a fiery 18th over against England, Jansen not allowing any big hit in the 19th and Nortje not letting it slip in the 20th were all signs of a new mindset, which suggests that this lot at least don’t carry any mental baggage. If that was so, Markram’s commitment to the cause showed that they were giving it their last inch until the very end.