World Cup Diary: South African the epitome of poor value in last eight

South Africa have a poor record when batting second
South Africa have a poor record when batting second
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Ed Hawkins says the trend for sides batting first to dominate in the tournament and South Africa's poor record chasing makes them a dreadful bet at short odds in the first quarter-final.

"South Africa are dreadful chasers compared to the other contenders for the World Cup crown"

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Back Sri Lanka if they bat first at [3.0]

So far, this World Cup has been like every other. New standards of batting brilliance have been set, the Irish wore their 'plucky but unlucky' tag, the Kiwis have looked strong and England were pitiful. Now all we need is for South Africa to choke.

The South Africans take on Sri Lanka in the first quarter-final in Sydney in the small hours of Tuesday. Already there is a thick air of desperation surrounding the squad, which is making their throats scratchy.

South Africa have never won a World Cup knockout match. AB De Villiers has insisted that "we won't choke" which is just another way of saying "we won't lose". So why not say that? It's because South Africa are haunted by failure and despite De Villiers' soundbites they won't truly believe they can win this tournament until they put this hoodoo to bed.

Unfortunately they could not have picked a worse opponent than Sri Lanka, whose knowhow is unrivalled. They will know exactly how to put South Africa under pressure in Sydney, reminding each and every player of the weight of the history books on their shoulders.

For an example, look at this video of Kumar Sangakkara putting the frighteners on Shaun Pollock in their World Cup contest in 2003, one of the more famous South African implosions. "Lot of pressure, all this expectation...forty-three millions supporters, depending on Shaun."

If 'the choke' was not enough to contend with, South Africa have disappointed so far. If they lose, the pundits will say it was because they couldn't handle the pressure, not because they were not good enough. It is the latter that is actually more likely to cost them.

This column tipped South Africa last year at [6.0]. Why? Simply because [6.0] was too big about a side which, when important numbers were crunched, suggested they should have been favourites. They had outbowled and outbatted almost every team in the last four years and had done so in all conditions.

Nothing quite exposes a team's weaknesses like a World Cup campaign, however. And South Africa did not even look the second-strongest side in the pool despite finishing ahead of Pakistan. Defeats by Pakistan and India raised grave concerns about their credentials.

A chief worry is their ability to chase. Both of those games were lost batting second. A failure to reach a target of 308 to beat India was perhaps understandable, although they did come up woefully short, but it was the loss to Pakistan which was so damaging to their confidence and reputation.

They needed only 223 to win. That should have been a breeze, particularly against an attack shorn of its two most potent bowlers - Saeed Ajmal and Mohammad Hafeez - in the last few years. Instead they folded pathetically.

That has been more than a trend for this South Africa side. They are dreadful chasers compared to the other contenders for the World Cup crown.

In the last 12 months they have won only six from 12 batting second and eight from 21 in the last two years. Contrast that to Australia who have won seven from eight in the last 12 months (11 from 15 last two years), India ten from 12 (24 from 34) and New Zealand nine from 12 (13 from 22).

It is particularly pertinent for a World Cup which has been dominated by batsmen, making chasing difficult. Eight from 12 contests between the big eight have been won by the side batting first. That stat coupled with South Africa's terrible record chasing, threatens their existence beyond the last eight.

That is why the first quarter-final is a wonderful opportunity to understand what we mean when we talk about value. South Africa are [1.47] and Sri Lanka [3.05]. There can be no question that South Africa are not it. There are too many concerns about their play to warrant backing them at prohibitively short odds.

Now we may have as many doubts about Sri Lanka (Rangana Herath is fitness concern and they are too reliant on Sangakkara) but it doesn't matter. We could have more doubts - and we should - but they do not justify the gulf in price between the two.

The best way to understand what a poor bet South Africa are is to imagine that having read this piece and understood perfectly their poor record when batting second, you bet them anyway. Then they lose the toss and field first against a Sri Lanka side boasting the top runscorer in the tournament in Sangakarra. How would you feel?

Not very confident? Regretting the wager? Then a television commentator might remind you of South Africa's record in knockouts. And you'd choke on your breakfast.

Recommended Bet
Back Sri Lanka if they bat first at [3.0]

South Africa's World Cup knockout woe
2011 - semi-final: lost to New Zealand by 49 runs

Oh look, an implosion batting second. South Africa needed only 222. And they were coasting at 108 for two. Then military medium Jacob Oram came on to bowl.

2007 - semi-final: lost to Australia by seven wickets

A horrible, horrible performance by the Proteas. They were blown away for 149, with Shaun Tait doing much of the damage.

1999 - semi-final: tied with Australia
Lance Klusener turned puce, Alan Donal dropped his bat. Infamous. South Africa were out by virtue of having lost to Australia in the group stages.

1996 - Quarter-final: Lost to West Indies by 19 runs
They were cruising to the last four at 186 for three but they inexplicably collapsed, not to Walsh, Ambrose or Bishop but the apparently terrifying Roger Harper and Jimmy Adams.

1992 - semi-final: lost to England by 19 runs.
Okay, so they were done by a revised target under the rain rules in Sydney. Had it not chucked it down, South Africa would have made the final and they may never have been called chokers.

Ed Hawkins P/L

2015: -£71.60
2014: +325.10 (ROI 28.5%)
2013: +250.80 (ROI 25%)

To £10 level stakes, based only on available prices. Does not include back-to-lay in-running match advice

Follow Ed on Twitter @cricketbetting

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