The term “chokers” has become synonymous with the South African cricket team in international cricket. Despite boasting some of the game’s biggest stars, the Proteas have yet to secure a World Cup victory in either ODI or T20I. Their sole triumph in an ICC event dates back to 1998 when they defeated West Indies to win the inaugural Champions Trophy by four wickets. South Africa’s track record in knockout games is undeniably poor. However, following India’s defeat in the 2023 World Cup final to Australia at Ahmedabad’s Narendra Modi Stadium, questions arise about whether Team India, not South Africa, holds the title of the biggest chokers in world cricket.

It’s been over a decade since India clinched an ICC trophy in any format, despite coming agonizingly close on numerous occasions. In one-day cricket, they faced semi-final defeats in 2015 and 2019 against Australia and New Zealand, respectively. The Men in Blue reached the 2017 Champions Trophy final dominantly but suffered a significant loss to Pakistan. In T20Is, they lost the 2014 T20 World Cup final to Sri Lanka and faced semi-final exits in 2016 and 2022. India also reached the finals of the two World Test Championships (WTC) but ended up as runners-up on both occasions.

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Not merely bad luck

While commiserations are due to the Indian team for their commendable performance in the 2023 World Cup, the fact remains that they once again fell short. With this recurring pattern for over a decade, it cannot be dismissed as bad luck alone. There are deeper issues at play, and unless Indian cricket addresses the root cause, they are likely to face continued challenges on significant occasions, much like South Africa’s struggles in knockout clashes.

In the 2023 World Cup, India was on par with Australia on paper. Their dominance in the ten matches leading up to the final was evident. However, despite getting the desired situation in the final (batting first) after losing the toss, the Men in Blue faltered on the crucial day. Apart from Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli, the rest succumbed to pressure, and the bowling duo of Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami couldn’t sustain the pressure. Once Travis Head and Marnus Labuschagne settled in, the outcome became apparent.

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Mental strength on D-Day?

A noticeable pattern in Team India’s losses in crucial ICC games over the years is their failure to meet expectations on the big day. Whether it’s the 2015 or 2019 ODI World Cup or the 2017 Champions Trophy, they entered knockout clashes on the back of stellar performances but faltered when it mattered most. The defeat can’t be solely attributed to cricketing skills, where Indian players rank among the best. Cricket is as much a mental game as it is physical, and this is where teams like India and South Africa seem to lag behind Australia on significant occasions.

The Men in Blue and the Proteas comfortably defeated Australia in league clashes, but Australia retaliated, delivering the knockout punch when it counted. Great players, like Mitchell Starc and skipper Pat Cummins, rose to the occasion on the big stage. This mental resolve is where teams like India have fallen short over the last decade, leading to heartbreak for players and fans.

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Unfair to single out individuals

While it’s not fair to pinpoint individuals, it’s worth noting that players like Shreyas Iyer and Shubman Gill, who had commendable World Cups, seemed out of sorts in the final. Even KL Rahul, despite scoring 66, didn’t pose a significant threat to Australia. Similar to the 2015 and 2019 World Cup semi-finals, a different team appeared in the summit clash. Given this pattern, the end result wasn’t surprising.

India’s strength in the 2023 World Cup lay in their overall batting and bowling prowess, adaptable to various surfaces. However, the final’s surface seemed tailored to the opposition, and it backfired, raising questions about India’s faith in their ability to beat Australia on a standard ODI surface. Did they prioritize concerns about the opposition over preparing for the big game? Did panic set in before the final, leading to conceding the match before it began? Many questions remain unanswered.