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Remember The Times We Thought The Proteas Had It Won?

cricket world cup heartache

7 May 2019, by: Mike Strachan


If you want to know what heartbreak feels like, ask a person who has been dumped. If you want to know what resilience feels like, ask someone who has trained and completed a marathon. If you want to know what both heartbreak and resilience feel like then ask a Proteas supporter during Cricket World Cups.

This piece is a reminder of the World Cup heartbreak that Proteas fans have experienced over the years, and the resilient belief that ‘this is our year’.

The Time We Legitimately Got Robbed

Back to where it all began. South Africa’s first Cricket World Cup. Kepler Wessels and his chargers were new onto the international scene and weren’t taken too seriously by their counterparts, that was until the first game they played. A young Allan Donald ripped through the hosts Australia and suddenly the South Africans were a team to be reckoned with. South Africa finished third on the overall points table, which meant that they were playing England in the semi-finals at the SCG.

England batted first and posted a good total (in those days) of 252/6 with Zimbabwean Graeme Hick scoring 83. The game was heading for a close finish with South Africa needing 22 runs off 13 deliveries for victory. Unfortunately the rain came down and the method that was used back then was the ‘most productive overs’ method to decide the outcome of a limited overs game. When the rain ended, South Africa came back onto the field needing an impossible 21 runs from 1 ball. (After the controversy the ‘most productive overs’ method was replaced by the ‘Duckworth-Lewis’ method).

The South Africans left Australian shores with their heads held high. They played some wonderful cricket, being defeated by the elements rather than the opposition. Whilst Peter Kirsten ended as the third highest run scorer in the tournament, South African fans were left wondering if rain would ever send them out of a world cup tournament again.

The Time We Didn’t Need A Run

17th of June 1999. A dark day in Proteas history and one that supporters need no reminder of. South Africa were strong contenders, they had a well balanced team, a shrewd Bob Woolmer as coach and were recent winners of the Champions Trophy a year before. Like Santam, we were thinking, ‘what could go wrong?’

They started the tournament well, finishing first in group A. They then proceeded to finish third in the Super Sixes stage which set up a semi-final showdown against the Aussies at Edgbaston. With 1 run needed off 3 balls Lance ‘Zulu’ Klusener took a suicidal run, Donald dropped his bat and was runout by some distance. The match was tied and unfortunately there was no super over decider back then, so the Aussies went through based on their superior record in the Super Six stage.

Both teams had contrasting fortunes after this match. The Proteas developed a ‘chokers’ tag which they have been unable to shake-off since, whilst the Aussies dominated world cricket winning the ‘99, ‘03 and ‘07 World Cups.

Klusener was named Man of the Tournament for his exceptional performances with the bat and ball, so much so that he was the only South african named in ESPN’s All-Time World Cup XI. In the 14 World Cup matches he played, he averaged 124 with the bat and 22 with the ball. Zulu will always be a World Cup folklore legend.

The Time We Actually Needed A Run

South Africa are the hosts and they’ve got a point to prove. They want to avenge the disappointment of the 1999 and they want to move past the shame of the Hansie Cronje match-fixing scandal.

The Proteas had some disappointing losses in the group stages against West Indies and New Zealand, while their African counterparts Kenya pulled off a few surprises. They benefited from a walkover result, as New Zealand chose not to play them in Nairobi due to security reasons.

This left South Africa with a must-win game vs Sri Lanka in Durban. With the constant drizzle in Durbs there was a feeling that the match was going to inevitably be decided via Duckworth-Lewis. The Proteas’ brain trust had calculated that they needed to have 229 after 45 overs and remain 6 wickets down. Boucher hit a six to get to 229 off the penultimate ball of the 44th over and he calmly defended the last ball to ensure what South Africa thought was a victory at the time.

Turns out, this was the par score, meaning we needed one more run to be ahead. A simple, avoidable error meant they were eliminated in consecutive World Cups due to a tie. The Proteas could once again feel the noose tightening around their necks and a whole nation felt the gasp, spew and splutter of their beloved cricket side.

The Time We Had No Expectations But Still Got Out Hearts Broken

In 2015, the South African public gave the Proteas very little chance to win the World Cup hosted in Australia and New Zealand. However, they found themselves in the semi-finals against an impressive Kiwi team and oh boy, were we treated to a thriller!

There was no surprise that the game was rain-interrupted, but that didn’t break the Proteas momentum. They went on to score an impressive 298 with Faf scoring 82 and de Villiers blasting 65.

New Zealand started strong as Brendon McCullum went berserk on our opening bowlers. His dismissal started the run-scoring wobble the Proteas needed. They could smell blood but couldn’t land the knockout blow; De Villiers fumbled at the stumps to miss running out Corey Anderson, wicketkeeper Quinton de Kock missed a clear run out chance while substitute fielder Farhaan Behardien and JP Duminy nearly collided in the deep and neither caught the late-innings opportunity.

With two balls left, New Zealand needed five to win. A nerveless Grant Elliott sealed the win by smashing fast bowler Dale Steyn for six off the second-last delivery. Not again.

The Time We Give The Proteas Our Resilient Support

Protea fans have suffered frequent heartbreak since 1992, but have also shown resilience (the famous 438 game being the pick of the lot). There have also been unnecessary individual losses to Kolpak – Riley Rossouw, Kyle Abbott and Morne Morkel; whilst our greatest ever batsman is ‘too tired’ to represent our great country (we miss you AB). However, these losses have been offset by the unearthing of gems, such as Kagiso Rabada, Lungi Ngidi and Aidan Markram to name a few.

With not much expectation and the Proteas having arguably the best bowling unit in the world, dare we dream? Is this our year?

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