Any crunch game featuring South Africa invariably has the age-old talk about choking. As they get ready to face India in a virtual quarter-final at The Oval in the ICC Champions Trophy 2017, there are a few things the cricket world must remember.
Firstly, this is the only ICC tournament they have won (when it was called the Knock-out in 1998). Secondly, this team may not carry the baggage some of their predecessors shouldered. And, most importantly, they are the No. 1 One-Day International (ODI) side in the world.
South Africa’s failure to rise to the occasion in crucial matches in world events stemmed from a major psychological barrier. The ghosts of their past failures haunted them as they crumbled under pressure. One detail slipped into oblivion in recent times. South Africa won a knock-out game in the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015, their first such victory since 1998. Although it was a facile win against Sri Lanka, it did help get the monkey off the back although they lost the semi-final against New Zealand immediately after.
Also, this South African squad has a good mix of the new generation and the established guard. Players like Faf du Plessis, Hashim Amla and AB de Villiers hold the key. They’ve also played a lot of T20 cricket across the world, which invariably has an impact on one’s temperament. Players are better used to handling pressure in ODIs thanks to the emergence of T20, where the tension is compressed into a shorter time-frame. Then the likes of Kagiso Rabada, Quinton de Kock and Chris Morris bring in the flair and the fearlessness in the unit.
India’s good Champions Trophy record against South Africa
So far, India and South Africa have clashed thrice in the Champions Trophy with the former winning all three. Back in 2000, India beat South Africa in the ICC Knock Out semi-final with Sourav Ganguly scoring a century. In 2002, Yuvraj Singh’s catches inspired India to steal victory after centurion Herschelle Gibbs retired hurt. During the last edition, MS Dhoni’s team put in a good effort to get the better of South Africa in their opening encounter. Unlike the World Cups, India have a very good record against South Africa in this competition.
Having said that, India have shown that they are made of strong stuff temperamentally. Virat Kohli leads the way there with his exemplary mental strength. Under the pump, India tend to produce some of their best cricket in recent times. Past records may not matter, but they will focus on the job. On the eve of the game, the team looked good and calm at the nets. It may be a crunch game, but there are no nerves. If anything, there was an air of assurance.