If one were to capture the essence of South African cricket in one microcosm one only need to look back to the World Cup semi-final match played against Australia in Birmingham, England, on the 17 of June 1999.
In perhaps the most famous semi-final in World Cup cricket history favourites South Africa needed nine runs off the last over with a wicket remaining to book their place in the final. Lance Klusener in the form of his life was at the strikers end with Alan Donald opposite to him. Damien Fleming saw his first two balls disappear across the boundary rope for four.
South Africa were in pole position, requiring only a single run off the remaining four deliveries to win. Klusner uncharacteristically mistimed his shot to pull the third delivery down the wicket to mid-on straight to Darren Lehmann, Alan Donald late to realize that the ball had gone straight to the fielder was off his mark and by the time he recognized the severity of the situation he was at the mercy of Lehmann, who unbelievably missed the wickets from six yards away.
Lady Luck had smiled down on the South Africans. In a cruel twist of fate tragedy would strike with the very next ball.
Klusener scuffed the incoming delivery straight down the wicket and started running, Donald being extra careful this time around to ensure what happened in the previous delivery doesn’t repeat itself turned his head to see where the ball was headed, and before he knew it both him and his partner were standing on the same side of the pitch, the comical scene of Alan Donald running down the pitch without his bat only to realize it was all too late will live long in the memory of every cricketing fan, especially the South Africans, who surely won’t find it amusing.
The tag of ‘Chokers’ was born and unfortunately they have lived up to it ever since. In the lead up to the World Cup held on home soil in 2007 South Africa were the number one ranked ODI team and one of the tournament favourites, again they crumbled in the semi final stage to familiar foes Australia, putting up a measly score of 149 which the Aussies chased down with ease.
It was the same old story in the World Cup of 2015, this time falling at the hands of New Zealand seemingly from a winning position.
20 years on they’re in England once again for the World Cup, heading in to the tournament as one of the favourites. They sit third in the ICC ODI rankings, having won eight of the ten ODI series played in the past three years, falling only to England and India, the only teams that currently outrank them.
At their disposal is a squad brimming with talent, an exceptional blend of experience and youth. The batsmen have power and technique in spades with Quinton de Kock, Hashim Amla, Faf Du Plessis and David Miller; while Kagiso Rabada, Lungi Ndidi and Dale Steyn combine to form the perhaps the deadliest pace attack in world cricket, add to that the spin wizardry of Imran Tahir and you have a team fit to any tournament.
But they’ve been in this same situation before, in fact they’ve been in a similar situation so many times that it almost feels like Groundhog Day. It’s gotten to a point where when it is all said and done nobody probably believes they’ll win it, but that is not important, what is important is that this group of players believe in themselves and their ability to go all the way, and what better place to exorcise the demons of their failures then perhaps where it all began in the first place, England.
2019 World Cup Betting Odds:
South Africa to win: 10/1