How history matters in cricket: case of South Africa and Indo-Pak cricket matches

Just like we see in economics, sportsmen too forget/prefer to forget history really quickly. It is one of the least appreciated aspects of economics and sports as well.

Once again South Africa lost in a knock out match in World Cup Cricket. So now, we have 6 such occasions.

They are deemed the best team in the qualification rounds. How come they lose each time in the knock-out rounds. What is worse is except 2007, in all the other 5 they lost from a winning position. Worse two matches in 1999 and 2003 were tied but SA could not qualify because of points issues. In 2003, there was much confusion with rules. The batsman (Mark Boucher) just defended the ball (Muralitharan the bowler) and did not take a run as he thought SA has crossed the target. What is worse the previous ball he blasted for a 6 and thought they had won the match. So it is complete thrill and chaos with SA in such matches.

The tag of chokers has stuck and boy how well they have played/lived upto it.

Why is this so? Well if you look at the teams, it has happened only with Australia twice. Rest are all different teams. So one can’t say the mind demons come true because of playing a team which knocked them earlier as well. But if you look at the reason for getting out well there you see some similarities. Either it is rain, madness or middle order collapse. In 2011 rain gods did not interfere but madness and middle order collapse continued.

Other issue is batting first or second. 4 times they were out bating second and two times batting first. In batting first, they bowed out to Australia each time. Hence, even this batting second in key matches seems to be a bigger problem.

Despite numerous claims by players in a pre-match that we are not burdened by history, they are not chokers etc…The qualifying round performance is so good that one actually believes that past demons have been buried. But again the same history repeats. So clearly in their minds, the players keep fearing that history might get repeated. In the process it does get repeated.

This is different from the financial crisis setting where players just have no fear and believe things will not be repeated. Higher risks are taken and the crisis follows. This leads to shock waves amidst members wondering how this happened. It is history stupid what else. In SA’s cricket case, players are very well aware of history.

A strategy for sports coaches is to induct new players who have no such mindset and are not burdened by history. I remember Bangladesh following this in 2007 under Dav Whatmore. B’desh always suffered losses despite being considered as a force in one day internationals. So he got a lot of new talent and they made it to QFinals defeating India.

In 2011, there were many new faces in SA as well barring their captain and Jacques Kallis from previous campaigns. But this did not work. And what is worse is people said middle order was too weak and they needed Marc Boucher (one in 2003 loss) in the team! Would he have not been burdened by history as well?

The critical point is SA have not really taken the right lessons from their historic defeats. They have never really selected the best batters for the middle order both physically and mentally. Even in 2011, they lost to England when their middle order was pushed to a corner. It is an irony that South African professionals are preferred by other teams for mental conditioning etc. They need many more sessions from such experts. They need to convert these historic defeats to historic wins. Till then te tag of chockers (and even jokers by some for snatching defeat from jaws of victory) will remain and haunt them.

I just want to end the post by pointing to today’s crucial match – India vs Pakistan. Pakistan has lost all the matches to India in the world cup. There have been 4 such defeats:

  • In 1992 (Pak batted second)
  • In 1996 (Pak batted second)
  • In 1999 (Pak batted second)
  • In 2003 (Pak batted first)

Till 2003, India won the toss and batted first. Batting second led to pressure on Pakistan and lost. In 2003 Pak won the toss and batted first but still lost thanks to a gem from Sachin followed by a good partnership by Yuvraj and Dravid. Hence, going by past records toss is going to be crucial. Team winning the toss would be batting first.

In each of these matches Pakistan kept repeating the mistake of batting India out of the match in first few overs. This led to careless batting and match was gone. There was a lot of overconfidence as Indian record against Pakistan worsened after the historic 1987 Sharjah final. Indians were shocked after that defeat and went into a shell against Pakistan in matches. India could recover from that shell thanks to some good players (a lesson for SA). But Pakistan kept drawing inspiration from the previous matches against a very different and positive Indian side. Who said history doesn’ matter?

In 2011 encounter some Pakistan players have said they don’t believe in history. This is not really true as some are saying they have the habit to change history. So clearly history is weighing on their mind.

It will be interesting to see if India can take advantage of this burden. And whether Pakistan has drawn right lessons from history.

Update (31/3/2011):

  • Well I wish I could be better in economic forecasting.  As I said toss will play a key role. It did as India batted first and Pakistan faced the pressure.  And then I also said it will be interesting to see whether Pakistan learnt lessons from history. Not really as again there were extravagant shots and poor strategy. They learnt some lessons as there was little pre-match talking and overconfidence. But overall the same problem of brittle middle order was the problem.

    The one who said he doesn’t believe in history was out trying to play a scoop shot, the shot which cost Pakistan the World Cup T-20 title as well. So we so some repitition  as well

  • I forgot to mention how New Zealand draws strength from history. They have now been part of 6 semi-finals (out of 10 total world cups) making it one of the best teams to have played the world cup. NZ never really has great players but make a great team together. They are a good tournament team and relish the knock-out format. Each time one hardly includes NZ in the probable semi-final line up, but they mostly make it.

    But then their inability to get into even one final is again a interplay of history. That hurdle becomes too much for them to cross. The team members are usually tired reaching the semi finals against all expectations. Best chance came in 1992 when they had some great players but lost to Pak in a dramatic match.

  • FInally how Australia really used history to its advantage in earlier editions. Playing Australia kind of put most oppostion teams into a corner already scared of losing the match. The Aussies had pulled many matches from the jaws of defeat. This led to intimidation before the start of the match and Aussies took major advantage of this. It is only when the legendary players left did Aussie effect come down.

One Response to “How history matters in cricket: case of South Africa and Indo-Pak cricket matches”

  1. Harish C Menon Says:

    Did anyone say those who forget history are condemned to repeat it?

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