South Africa choked once again in a world tourney and went out of the Champions Trophy after losing to England. There was huge expectation that after their wonderful tour of Australia last year, when they beat the world champs in both the Tests and limited-overs series, they would dominate the sport like the Australians did in the last couple of decades.
That was not to be as the Aussies swiftly claimed revenge by winning the Test series when they toured the Rainbow Nation. At that stage, the excuse was that South Africa were still on a high after the tour of Australia and were not prepared for the return series.
When the ICC World Twenty20 began strongly for the Proteas, the talk was about who they would be meeting in the final.
It is one thing to play the league matches where teams know that there is another game to recover but quite another to play in the knockout stage when you know that there is no other chance. Not surprisingly, the Proteas choked in the semi-finals. This Champions Trophy was the opportunity to show that they were not chokers and that too in front of their home crowd. That chance was in jeopardy from the inaugural game itself where South Africa were pummeled by Sri Lanka. Still, it was felt that beating New Zealand and England would not be a problem.
England are a different team from the one seen in the recent series against Australia and they batted superbly to get over 300 runs. South Africa did make a spirited effort but it was never going to be easy chasing 300-plus under the lights. Paul Collingwood is in tremendous touch and Eoin Morgan is turning out to be a dangerous batsman in the slog overs. Also, the South African pitches are giving the seamers some assistance and they are looking better than they did in England.
New Zealand too lifted their game and the manner in which they posted over 300 against Sri Lanka shows that they have not given up the fight. They will be playing a confident and in-form England and if they do beat them, both will qualify for the semis from their group.
Since theirs is the last game of the group, New Zealand know the margin by which they can afford to lose since the net run-rate will come into play if they or the Lankans go through with England to the knockout stage. Of course, they will be looking to win and not at the net run-rate because that will hamper their approach. It is always better to qualify with a win than sneak in through the back door.