South Africa will start as firm favourites to win Friday’s World Cup quarter-final against New Zealand - provided they can overcome their trademark knock-out blues.
In five previous tournaments, the Proteas crashed out three times in the semifinals, once in the quarter-final and another time in the first round, earning them the unwanted tag of cricket’s perennial chokers.
It was not the defeats, but the manner in which they happened, that left their fans dumbfounded and wondering if the nation will ever win the showpiece event.
South Africa can hardly be blamed for the semifinal loss in their maiden Cup appearance in 1992 - a crazy rain-rule left them needing 21 runs off one ball - but what followed was their own undoing.
South Africa went into the quarter-finals in 1996 unbeaten in the league, only to find West Indies’ star batsman Brian Lara smash 111 off 94 balls to cause a 19-run defeat in Karachi.
In 1999, a disastrous run-out involving Lance Klusener and Allan Donald when just one run was needed to win resulted in a tie, allowing Australia to scrape through to the final on superior net run-rate.
A comedy of errors followed at home in Durban in 2003 as Mark Boucher defended the final ball when South Africa needed one more run to win the rain-affected match against Sri Lanka.
Boucher, who thought the Duckworth-Lewis target had already been surpassed when only the par score had been reached, was heart-broken as the hosts were knocked out in the first round.
South Africa surrendered once more in the 2007 semifinal against Australia in St Lucia when they were shot out for 149 in 43.5 overs to allow Ricky Ponting’s men an easy seven-wicket win.
Graeme Smith’s men have been one of the most dominant sides in the current tournament, winning five of their six league matches to top the tough Group B.
But the six-run loss to England chasing a modest 172 was another example of South Africa’s brain freeze, even though the demons were exorcised by surpassing India’s 296 with three wickets in hand.
Smith was delighted to ram the ‘chokers’ word down the throats of his critics after the India win, saying: “I’m happy that our guys challenged the perception.”
South Africa know New Zealand are no pushovers - the Kiwis have won three of their five World Cup meetings against them, including a five-wicket success in the Super Eights round of the 2007 edition.
New Zealand’s four wins in Group A included a sensational 110-run victory over Pakistan in Pallekele following a Ross Taylor blitz on his 27th birthday.
Taylor smashed an unbeaten 131 off 124 with eight boundaries and seven sixes as the Kiwis hammered 100 runs in the last five overs.
The spectacular assault not only convinced Shoaib Akhar to retire after the World Cup, but also gave New Zealand renewed confidence that they can beat any team on their day.
New Zealand return to the Sher-e-Bangla stadium in Dhaka, the venue for Friday’s match, where they suffered a 4-0 drubbing at Bangladesh’s hands last October.
New Zealand will be boosted by the return of influential skipper Daniel Vettori, who missed the last two matches against Canada and Sri Lanka with a knee injury.
“I should be okay to get through batting and bowling, it is just the running around that is hampering me a little bit,” Vettori said. “I am confident of playing the quarter-final.”
Seamer Daryl Tuffey will bolster the pace attack as a replacement for the injured Hamish Bennett.
New Zealand: Daniel Vettori (captain), James Franklin, Martin Guptill, Jamie How, Brendon McCullum, Nathan McCullum, Kyle Mills, Jacob Oram, Jesse Ryder, Tim Southee, Scott Styris, Ross Taylor, Kane Williamson, Luke Woodcock, Daryl Tuffey.
Coach: John Wright (NZL)
South Africa: Graeme Smith (captain), Hashim Amla, Johan Botha, AB de Villiers, JP Duminy, Faf du Plessis, Colin Ingram, Jacques Kallis, Morne Morkel, Wayne Parnell, Robin Peterson, Dale Steyn, Imran Tahir, Lonwabo Tsotsobe, Morne van Wyk.
Coach: Corrie van Zyl (RSA)
Umpires: Aleem Dar (PAK) and Rod Tucker (AUS)
TV umpire: Kumar Dharmasena (SRI)
Match referee: Roshan Mahanama (SRI)
Match start: 0330 GMT
Pitch conditions: A slow wicket where the ball does not come on to the bat, but it has provided equal opportunities for fast bowlers and spinners.
Head to head
New Zealand wins: 17
South Africa wins: 30
No result: 4
First meeting: Feb 29, 1992, Auckland - New Zealand won by seven wickets.
Last meeting: Sept 24, 2009, Centurion - South Africa won by five wickets
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