Any cricket fan asked to describe South Africa will describe it in one single word - Chokers. But in the recent past South Africa finally seem to have lived down the tag and have exorcised the ghost that has haunted them for so long.
True, South Africa drew the test series against India, when they should have easily have won it, but they didn't choke and give India the test crown. Rather a team that was in turbulent waters with their coach leaving and their selection panel getting the boot, have done marvelously well. They traveled to India, to play the top ranked test team in their own backyard and stretched them to every possible inch. I've never seen a team perform such as South Africa did in the test against India in India in recent times. They came so close to winning and will look back at this series with just enough satisfaction to say that the test series was a missed opportunity.
In the first ODI [SCORECARD], yesterday in Jaipur India did all the right things and had South Africa down on the rug with the visitors sitting at 180 for 7 still needing 119 runs at about 7 an over. All their batsman sans Kallis were back in the hut and things looked like a easy win for India. Fate had other things planned and in the end, India scrapped through to a win by a meager run.
After the top order sans Kallis (89) chocked chasing the Indian target of 299 runs, South Africa found able batsmen in Wayne Parnell and Dale Steyn (and help from Sreesanth - who finished the match giving 74 runs in just 9 overs). The duo added 50 runs in just 32 balls as they brought their team just a whisker away from victory. I think, gone are the days when South Africa lost by choking. Now, South Africa are losing without even choking. Finally they started playing cricket.
From an Indian perspective, India did well despite the absence of major players. Jadeja played magnificently and Rajasthan Royals will dearly miss his services (He was banned by the IPL governing body). Shane Warne agrees with me on this issue. Also Raina seems to have come of age and it's clear that he has worked on his weakness against the short deliveries. It was great to see him pull and uppercut the bumpers thrown at him by the Saffers.
Indian fielding has finally improved and the dive from Sachin in the last over saving a boundary was what turned things in India's favor. Though still not any where near the quality and level of South African fielding, it is making strides in the Indian side.
If the test series was anything but intense rivalry and close competition, then the ODI series has just magnified the intensity. But isn't it queer that even under such intense pressure and competition, no player has crossed the line. Truly, this is how cricket was meant to be played, when it was called as the gentleman's game.