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Last Updated: Tuesday, 24 April 2007, 14:11 GMT 15:11 UK
Can South Africa shed chokers tag?
By Martin Gough
BBC Sport in St Lucia

When South Africa successfully chased a target of 435 to beat Australia in Johannesburg a year ago, they instantly dubbed the game the best one-day international ever.

Herschelle Gibbs and Mark Boucher
Gibbs and Boucher played in the 1999 match
That was because they were so keen to forget the game that really deserves the honour.

Eight years after the infamous tied World Cup semi-final at Edgbaston, South Africa and Australia stage a replay in St Lucia on Wednesday.

They know the result from that match - Australia progressing to the final having won an earlier game in the tournament between the two - will not happen again because the rules call for a bowl-out in the event of a tie.

But South Africa, certainly, will feel the weight of history as they seek to shake the label of "chokers" they have been saddled with since 1999.

"It doesn't get mentioned much within this set-up," said captain Graeme Smith leading up to the rematch.

"We had a [media] conference the other day with the guys who were part of that game. Even they say it wasn't such a big issue as people are making it up to be."

The four "surviving" members of the 1999 side were placed before the media on Saturday, all professing not to be worried about history.

BBC Sport's Martin Gough
"Irrespective of what past we have against each other or records there might be, it comes down to the game on Wednesday," said Herschelle Gibbs.

Not a chance, then, that he will even ponder the moment he was supposedly told he had "dropped the World Cup" when he put down a catch to dismiss Steve Waugh five days before the semi-final, Australia going on to win the match that would prove to be the tie-breaker.

"We've had some very close encounters," said Shaun Pollock, trying not to specifically reference the closest encounter of all.

"We've learnt a lot against Australia from the games we've played. I hope our experience will play a part."

And Jacques Kallis added with classic understatement: "Looking back there are a few things that we might have tried to do differently.

"The experience we've carried around for all these years will probably stand us in good stead."

"I woke up the next morning, saw the sun was up, phoned the family and basically moved on from there," said Mark Boucher philosophically, who was yorked by Glenn McGrath for five to leave Lance Klusener batting with the tail.

Allan Donald, whose mix-up with Klusener caused the fateful run-out that sealed the game, did not recover quite so quickly, playing the incident over and over again on video.

"There were just no words to describe the feeling in the dressing room - I thought the world was just going to swallow me up and spit me out after," he told me years later.

However, a professional sportsman cannot afford to dwell on failure if he is to avoid failing again.

Played 66 ODIS
Aus - won 35
SA - won 28
Tied - 3
Aus have won 6 out of last 10 meetings

Boucher summed it up when he admitted: "It did leave one or two little scars - but as a cricketer, if you're going to have a long career, you're going to have scars; every cricketer has them.

"It's how you get up from those moments, when you're down and bounce back."

After years of toiling under the pressure of being unable to win crunch matches, South Africa turned a corner last March, that high-octane win in Johannesburg clinching the series.

And they feel they have taken another step in this World Cup, overcoming their early defeat to Australia, an upset loss to Bangladesh and off-field troubles to clinch a semi-final spot.

Wednesday gives them a chance to finally stop being chokers, or to endure the label for at least another four years.

Smith shrugs off injury for semi
24 Apr 07 |  Cricket


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