XI Biggest Chokes in the History of the World Cup

Written by  //  February 18, 2011  //  Sport  //  2 Comments

While it provides much entertainment and many opportunities for great strokeplay, fantastic bowling and terrific fielding (not to mention a few upset wins), the Cricket World Cup also provides us the chance to watch super-athletic, super-trained and super-talented cricketers freeze like deer in the headlights of pressure. Faced with the prospect of losing, teams forget how to win, lose their heads and do things so unbelievably stupid that their supporters are left gaping and neutrals howling with laughter. Here’s a list of the biggest chokes in World Cup history: (for the record, a “choke” is defined as a team in good form/looking like winning and then completely losing the plot and coming undone; or what South Africa does EVERY World Cup)

1. South Africa v Australia Semi-finals 1999

Without question, the greatest of chokes in all of World Cup history. Having restricted Australia to a paltry 213 South Africa were odds on favourites to win until a fat blonde bowling leg spin went to work on their minds. A healthy 53/1 was quickly turned into 183/7 when their man of the hour (and ultimate man of the series), Lance Klusener kept his wits and hammered boundaries to drag them closer to victory. Then, with one run needed of four balls, this happened. Watch the video again. You can almost hear the frenzied voices in Allan Donald’s head go off when Klusener hits the ball. At least that is the only explanation one can give for the the initial freeze and then the mad and futile (not to mention, batless) run to the other end for a ball hit straight to short mid on. This match was the ultimate example of why one can never hope to say with a straight face: “Even South Africa cannot lose it from here…”

2. West Indies v Australia Semi-finals 1996

After an up and down tournament West Indies seemed to have finally gotten a golden chance to make the finals again after having upset (who else, but) South Africa in the quarters and needing only 43 runs to win off the last nine overs against Australia in the semis. Oh and they also had eight wickets in hand. That they lost from where will tell you nothing about the brainlessness and stupidity behind their cricket in the next half an hour. Batsman after batsman came in, tried to hit his way out, handed over his wicket… only for the next batsman to come in and do exactly the same. All the while Captain Richie Richardson, stuck at the other end, frantically pleading (practically going down on his knees and begging) with the batsmen to show some sense and hand him the strike. The rest of the West Indian batsmen politely declined.

3. India v Sri Lanka Semi-finals 1999

It is still seen as something of a national tragedy, a great humiliation, etc etc, but take a step back and you’ll realize this one was up there with the all time great chokes of the World Cup. From having the opposition to at 3 for 35 and letting them get to 250, all the way to cruising at 98 for 1 and then collapsing to 120 for 8, this was a choke of ginormous proportions and make no mistake about it. Naturally, the Kolkata crowd were less then amused.

4. South Africa v Sri Lanka Group Stage 2003

I could have filled in half of this list with South African World Cup performances between 1992-2007, but that would be unfair to the less well known chokers of the cricket World Cup. However, it is no great surprise then that South Africa’s Duckworth Lewis Method inspired choke (in front of a home crowd that too) finds mention here. This particular choke is unique in that it is perhaps the only mathematics based choke on this list. One can almost hear the collective howl of rage in the dressing room as Mark Boucher firmly pats back the last ball to Muralitharan confident in the assumption that they have enough to get over the D/L par score. They needed one more. They forgot to tell Mark Boucher.

5. South Africa v Australia Semi-finals 2007

By 2007, even the South African team believed that it was going to choke sometime between the end of the Super-Eights and the finals. They did. In the semi-finals. To (who else, but) Australia. Faced with Glenn McGrath and Shaun Tait, a much vaunted South African battling line mustered all of 149 runs between them and saw the Australians rack up the runs in about 30 overs.

6. West Indies v India final 1983

It’s probably taboo to say it; (but say it I will) India’s one World Cup win came courtesy of a massive choke. See, the West Indies were the form team since about 1975, and in 1983 they were expected to win the tournament again hands down. They too expected to win hands down. Just that they forgot how to. Batsman after batsman kept getting out in the belief that someone after them would get them to the paltry 183 but somehow no one seemed to realize that Viv Richards and Clive Lloyd get to bat only once in an innings. It was the finals, against one of the weaker teams, on a hot streak no doubt, but with Balwinder Singh Sandhu opening the bowling? Come on! They should have won it at a canter.

They didn’t. And the rest is well… you’re living in it now, so you know.

7. England v Australia finals 1987

When you’re cruising to victory in a World Cup final, no matter how rubbish the bowling is, YOU NEVER REVERSE SWEEP. Thanks to England’s almighty choke in this match, everyone knows this sacred maxim. Mike Gatting, on a roll, cleaning up Australia and taking England to a comfortable win, gets a little too comfortable against Allan Border. He decides to reverse sweep gets an edge to the keeper, and like the seasoned World Cup losers that they are, England promptly go on to collapse in a heap. Australia climbed out of nowhere to win the World Cup, and Mike Gatting ate humble pie. Lots of it.

8. Pakistan v Australia finals 1999

Thanks to Pakistan, this mostly unloved edition of the World Cup ended as it began; a damp squib of a contest. After a thrilling semi-final and a resounding Pakistani win in the semi-finals, an almighty clash of the titans was expected. Instead, Pakistan woke up, realized they were in the World Cup finals again, panicked and threw it all away in a limp and spineless display the likes of which weren’t seen…

9. India v Australia finals 2003

… for four years at the next World Cup. In 2003, after a rousing World Cup campaign where India beat all comers (except Australia) the finals against the all-conquering Australia was (once again) touted as an almighty clash of the titans. Except of course, India managed to choke at the toss. A limp bowling and batting display followed but in fact, after Ricky Ponting’s one handed six, we all sort of figured the match was over as a contest.

10. England v India Group Stage, 1999

In front of their home crowd (as defined as those who managed to pass the Tebbit test) England were on the verge of being kicked out of their own party. They needed to win this match against India to stay alive in the World Cup and keep a bit of interest alive. They were up against a team that had itself choked spectacularly against Zimbabwe but had come back strongly to keep their Super-Six hope alive. All the cues were set up for a thrilling game and a close contest. Of course it was a match involving England. Of course they choked. Of course they got kicked out of the World Cup. Even before the official song was released.

11. India v Bangladesh/Pakistan v Ireland group stages 2007

I really couldn’t decide which was the worse choke between the two, but considering the fact that both happened on the same day in the same tournament, I feel compelled (and in the interests of Indo-Pak comity) to jointly hand this place on the list to both India and Pakistan. The tournament format had been changed to give teams an opportunity to get kicked out of the World Cup earlier than before. Guess which teams took this glorious opportunity?

For the Indian fan, the agony of watching India stumble and fumble against Bangladesh was set off by the delight at the sight of the Irish pouring cold Guinness on Pakistani hopes ( I’m sure the opposite was also true for Pakistani fans that day). The ensuing Bangladesh-Ireland Super-Eights match was one more reason the 2007 World Cup will go down as probably the worst ever, thanks to the great sub-continental choke. (This is also perhaps the only choke to be attributed to a coach’s death; one would think Greg Chappell was happy he just got fired.)

As has already been pointed out in painful detail, the World Cup is really not going to get going till we reach the quarterfinals at least, but we can be sure of at least a good choke or two. Will India misunderstand the UDRS, panic and lose by 10 runs? Will Australia finally make their entry into the above list with a performance straight out of this winter’s Ashes? or will South Africa surprise us all… and find a new and hitherto impossible way of choking in the semi-finals? Again?

I can hardly wait to find out.

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A Supreme Court/Delhi High Court lawyer who writes a bit with a potentially fatal weakness for hyperlinks, tags, and the reader's approval. Follow @alokpi

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2 Comments on "XI Biggest Chokes in the History of the World Cup"

  1. Harsh March 10, 2011 at 4:02 pm ·

    Great picture! the inclusion of India-Lanka at 3 so spot on, Sweep sweep and out!

  2. smith March 26, 2011 at 5:55 am ·

    Well, you know it now . .who else but SA get the choker trophy of world cup 2011 as well

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