Pressure is a huge thing in a sport like cricket. It is up to a particular individual how he or she reacts in the middle. Few manage to channelise it properly and bring the best out of themselves while some of them crumble under pressure. This is what has been happening with the teams like South Africa and India over the last few years.
India, across all levels (Men’s, Women’s and U19) of cricket since 2014, have made it to the knockouts or finals of almost each and every ICC event and have managed to lose all of them except the 2018 U19 World Cup final. South Africa have been there forever and it is baffling to know that a country with such talented cricketers is yet to win even a single World Cup.
Add to it New Zealand, the nicest guys in the sport. Pick any World event and the BlackCaps are always there in the semi-finals. Moreover, they made it to the final of the last two World Cups and are yet to lay their hands on the coveted trophy. Sri Lanka were in a similar situation before eventually winning the T20 World Cup 2014.
While no one can be faulted for not performing in the crunch matches, we have identified certain players who have crumbled under pressure in the knockout matches in this century.
Here we bring you the best chokers XI of the 21st century:
1. Rohit Sharma
Rohit Sharma has been simply brilliant for India over the last 7-8 years. Ever since he has began opening the innings, his career has changed completely. Rather he has the best numbers for any opener in the ODI format since 2013. But come the World Cup knockouts, India’s limited-overs vice-captain hasn’t been able to play a match-winning knocks.
Rohit rather got starts in T20 World Cup final against, 50-over World Cup semi-final against Australia and T20 World Cup semi-final against the West Indies scoring 29, 34 and 43 respectively. But all the time, he couldn’t get going and score big.
To make things worse, he hasn’t even played more than four deliveries in the previous two finals of the ICC events. Against Pakistan, chasing a mammoth total, Rohit Sharma was pinned in front of the stumps for a three-ball duck while Matt Henry got the better of him in the World Cup semi-final last year.
It is baffling to see him fail every time in the knockouts having smashed runs at will earlier in the tournament and one can only hope that Rohit breaks this rut soon and win the World Cup which he deserves.
2. Brendon McCullum (WK)
This man changed New Zealand cricket completely. Under his leadership, the Kiwi came to know how to be aggressive while also being the nice guys. His batting was absolute next level. The way he used to take the attack to the bowlers was literally demoralising for any opposition.
However, Brendon McCullum botched a chance to become the forever hero of his country by winning the World Cup. His aggressive approach of going against the opposition bowling worked throughout the 2015 WC and come the final, Mitchell Starc got the better of him.
McCullum still regrets not scoring a run in the final when it mattered the most. Starc delivered one of the best deliveries of his career to nip out the world’s best and the Australian won the battle. New Zealand could never recover from the early blow and they eventually lost a golden chance to win the World Cup for the first time. The fate denied them the second chance in 2019 as well.
3. Hashim Amla
Hashim Amla, again, is one of the best openers South Africa ever had. He has scored around 18,500 runs for the Proteas which is huge and has a few batting records to his name as well. But Amla, the opener, couldn’t click in the knockout matches when it mattered the most.
The World Cup 2011 quarter-final against New Zealand saw him getting out to Nathan McCullum in the very first over for just seven runs in the first over of the innings. Against the same opponents, in the 2015 WC semis, Trent Boult sent him packing in the fourth over for only 10 runs.
In the T20 World Cup 2014 semi-final against India, Amla got settled and had reached 22 but got a beauty of a delivery from Ravi Ashwin which is still considered one of the best from the off-spinner.
4. Virat Kohli (C)
Virat Kohli is the best batsman in the world. There is no doubt about it. Scoring 70 international centuries is by no means a joke and the Indian skipper is always there leading from the front. But come the knockouts, there comes the mental block for him. Yes, he played a match-winning knock against Australia in the must-win situation in the 2016 T20 World Cup in Mohali.
But since then, Kohli hasn’t fired like he normally does in the other matches. He has scored 1 (13), 5 (9) and 1 (6) in the World Cup 2015 semi-final, Champions Trophy 2017 final and World Cup 2019 semi-final. All the three scores have come while chasing down a score and it is clear that the pressure gets to Kohli in these matches.
Such an incredible talent deserves another World Cup trophy (he won the World Cup as a player once in 2011) and with three such tournaments coming until 2023, with two of them to be played in India, fans will just be hoping that the trophy drought ends for India and Virat Kohli.
5. AB de Villiers
It is just baffling to see such great names in this list. AB de Villiers is another legendary cricketer from South Africa who deserved a World Cup trophy but could never win it. He came close agonisingly in the 2015 edition of the mega event but then, it was him missing the crucial run-out in the dying moments of the game.
South Africa and the semi-final, the equation has never worked. And for De Villiers, the knockout games haven’t been memorable either. In the 2014 T20 World Cup semi-final, he scored only 10 runs against India. While he made it up against New Zealand in the 2015 World Cup with a scintillating 65* off 45 deliveries, ABD missed the run-out in the crunch moments which could’ve possibly won them the game.
The pressure was so much on him that the man retired from international cricket in 2018. However, there are reports of his likely return for the upcoming T20 World Cup and if it happens, one seriously feels that De Villiers will try to script history and win the ever elusive world title.
6. Yuvraj Singh
This is certainly going to raise many eyebrows. Yuvraj Singh has been the World Cup hero for India both in 2007 and 2011. However, when it comes to the semi-finals and finals in such tournaments, he hasn’t been great either. While the inaugural T20 World Cup was lit up by Yuvraj himself with his six sixes against England and then followed it up with a 30-ball 70 against Australia in the semi-final, the southpaw could only score 14 off 19 deliveries in the final against Pakistan.
In the 2011 World Cup semi-final against Pakistan, Wahab Riaz sent him packing for a first-ball duck when Yuvraj was in great form throughout the competition. Then came possibly the worst game of his career. The final of T20 World Cup 2014 against Sri Lanka when he literally crawled to 11 runs off 21 deliveries. Many blamed him for the loss while Sri Lanka had bowled exceptionally well.
Even in the semi-final of that tournament against South Africa, Yuvi had only scored 18 off 17 balls when India were chasing 173. In the last knockout game of his career, the Champions Trophy final against Pakistan in 2017, he was the part of the collapse as well scoring only 22 runs off 31 deliveries.
While there is no doubt that Yuvraj Singh is the legend of Indian cricket, one feels he had the ability to play a few more thumping knocks in these matches and win a couple more trophies for India.
7. Shane Watson
Shane Watson was exceptional for Australia as an all-rounder. While his swashbuckling batting was useful at any stage of the game, his ability to strike when needed was literally gold. Watson is the lucky cricketer who has part of Australia two World Cup-winning squads in 2007 and 2015. However, his overall record in the knockouts of the ICC events hasn’t been great.
In the 2007 World Cup final, Watson could only muster three runs with the bat while he was taken away for 49 runs (he picked one wicket) in seven overs with the ball. In the 2015 WC semi-final against India, he scored only 28 runs and went for 29 runs in four overs with the ball. In the 2010 T20 World Cup against Pakistan, Watson conceded 26 runs in two overs and then could score only 16 runs in the 192-run chase. It was only due to Mike Hussey’s heroics that Australia qualified for the final.
The 2011 World Cup quarter-final against India also wasn’t memrable for Shane Watson. Opening the innings, he got off to a start but was dismissed by Ravi Ashwin for 25. With the ball, he did decently conceding 37 runs in seven overs picking Virender Sehwag’s wicket. But a destructive Watto was missing with the bat in the knockout game.
8. Shahid Afridi
Shahid Afridi was hands down one of the best all-rounders for Pakistan. He was at the forefront of their T20 World Cup success in 2009 scoring half-centuries in the semi-final and final and being miserly with the ball in both those games. But the other knockout matches haven’t been memorable for Afridi.
In the 2007 T20 World Cup final against arch-rivals India, he bagged a golden duck in the chase getting out to Irfan Pathan. Even he had failed to strike with the ball conceding 30 runs in his four overs. In the semi-final of World Cup 2011 against the same team, Afridi could only muster 19 runs in the steep chase when Pakistan needed a final fourish from him to have any chance of beating India.
And then came the 2015 World Cup quarter final against the Aussies where he looked threatening with 23 off 15 but threw his wicket away. Even he was expensive with the ball when the Men in Green needed to pick wickets to defend 213.
9. Dale Steyn
Dale Steyn is arguably the best bowler for South Africa has ever witnessed across formats. Very few can match the consistency with which he picked wickets and with the menace he bowls. Even at the fag end of his career, Steyn continues to bowl in the same way he used to do in his early days.
However, like AB de Villiers, Steyn doesn’t enjoy playing in the high-pressure or knockout games. In the World T20 2014 semis against India, the pace bowlers was taken away for 36 runs in 3.1 overs when South Africa expected him to do well defending 172 runs.
More pain was awaiting Steyn in the 2015 World Cup semi-final against the Kiwis. He was bowling really well in the game and had removed the dangerous Luke Ronchi in the 41st over (it was a 43-over game) to put South Africa into the ascendancy. However, the man couldn’t land his deliveries in the right areas in the final over when he needed to defend 12 runs. Grant Elliott got stuck into him and finished it off with a massive six to leave Steyn dejected in the middle.
10. Muttiah Muralitharan
Muttiah Muralitharan literally made almost every batsman dance to the tunes of his spin bowling during his illustrious career. During the last four years of his career, Sri Lanka made it to the final of the three ICC events and failed to win any.
And Muralitharan’s performance in these matches wasn’t great. In the 2007 World Cup final, Australia batsmen played him out easily scoring 44 runs off him in his seven overs without giving a wicket. Though Murali did well in the 2009 T20 WC final against Pakistan (1/20 in three overs) Sri Lanka never had enough runs on the board to win the game.
2011 World Cup final was the last ODI of his career and the islander were hoping to give him a memorable send-off. They were on their way too after dismissing Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag early. But a certain Gautam Gambhir and MS Dhoni had different ideas as they simply negated Murali in the steep run-chase.
Muralitharan conceded only 39 runs in his eight overs but couldn’t strike when Sri Lanka needed the most and it was surprising to see that his quota of overs weren’t completed. It was a sad end to a celebrated career.
11. Trent Boult
Trent Boult has been a brilliant performer for New Zealand across all formats over the years. And he was the main reason why the Kiwi were in the final of the World Cup last year. He nipped out India’s best batsmen, Rohit and Virat, in no time and jolted them early.
But come the final, the Boult magic didn’t work at all. Defending 241 to win their maiden World Cup, the BlackCaps needed their best bowler to do wonders for them. Instead Boult conceded 67 runs in his 10 overs and was at the receiving end of a lot of stick from Ben Stokes in the death overs. Though he delivered a brilliant last over and then followed it up with a decent super over, it should’ve never come down to this.
Stokes had lanched one into the skies during the dying moments of the game and Boult was under the ball certain to take a catch. But the left-arm pacer, couldn’t keep his balance while taking a catch and touched the ropes when the ball was in his hand reprieving Stokes who eventually won England the title. While Boult is not to be blamed for New Zealand’s loss, but only if he didn’t touch the boundary, the World Cup would’ve been New Zealand’s.
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