In cricket, South Africa and the term 'chokers' have become synonymous with the other. They are notorious for throwing away matches which they are expected to win. This might be true on some occasions - their 1999 World Cup semi-final against Australia being one - but not every time. But when their ability to succumb in pressure situations has been questioned time and again, why haven't the same questions been raised over England's inability to surrender in big contests? Knowing how they frittered away the winning situations in 50-over cricket in the past, they are as worthy of the 'chokers' tag as South Africa have been over the years.
By definition, choker in sports means when a team squanders a winning situation from nowhere. England have done that in the finals of all the major ICC competitions (World Cups and Champions Trophy) they have been part of. Including Sunday's Champions Trophy final against India, they have made it to an ICC tournament final five times: June 23, 1979. November 8, 1987. March 25, 1992. September 25, 2004 and June 23, 2013. And they have failed to come on top in all.
In the 1979 Prudential World Cup final against West Indies, England had no answers to the marauding Viv Richards who smacked 138 runs in no time. Chasing 267 to win, England were in a commanding position, having reached 183 for 2 at one stage, only to get rolled for just 194, with Joel Garner proving the wrecker-in-chief, picking up 5 for 38.
Playing against their old nemesis Australia in the 1987 Reliance World Cup final, England were cruising chasing Australia's 253, having reached 135 for 2. But then Mike Gatting, the English skipper, went for an expensive sweep against his opposite number Alan Border, getting stumped for 41 and changing the course of the game. England once again frittered away a winning position and lost the contest by seven runs.
In the Benson and Hedges World Cup in 1992, it was not South African that choked but England. Rain, in alliance with Duckworth-Lewis method, robbed South Africa of a deserving victory, setting the tone for what was in store for them in many years to come. England, clearly surprised by their entry to the final, were up against a buoyant Pakistan team which made a challenging 249, with captain Imran Khan (72) and Javed Miandad (58) making useful half-centuries. England, despite Neil Fairbrother's valiant 62, fell short by 22 runs.
England have failed to make a World Cup final since then. But they have reached the finals of two Champions Trophy, also known as the mini World Cup, at home in 2004 and 2013. Having been the best side in the competition, England were looking certain to end their trophy drought when they restricted West Indies to 147 for 8 after posting a moderate 217. But the ninth wicket unbroken stand of 71 between wicketkeeper batsman Courtney Browne and left-arm medium pacer Ian Bradshaw snatched the victory from their hands.
In Sunday's final, after restricting India for just 129 runs in a rain-marred contest which was reduced to 20 overs, England were on the verge of victory, having needed 20 off 15 balls with Eoin Morgan and Ravi Bopara still at the crease. But the departure of the duo on successive deliveries of Ishant Sharma left too much to do for the lower middle order against wily Indian spinners, losing the contest by five runs.
It can be argued that four of England's final XI - captain Alastair Cook, Jonathan Trott, Ian Bell and Tim Bresnan - might not have featured in the team had it been a 20-over contest from the outset, but that reason cannot take away the fact that how badly they choked in this match.
The England supporters might be thinking whether their team could ever deliver to the hype that's been created before every major competition? They have been disappointed not only by their cricket team, but also their football side which hasn't won a FIFA World Cup since 1966. So before tagging South Africa as 'chokers', one should also check England's record in major ICC competitions. And if South Africa can be called 'chokers', England should be placed definitely before them.
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