ADDRESSING the press after his side’s heart-wrenching loss to New Zealand in the pulsating semifinals of the 2015 World Cup in Auckland, South Africa captain AB De Villiers looked sullen. Seated next to coach Russell Domingo, the 31-year-old’s eyes were red, unable to contain his surge of emotions, and his head drooping in anguish.
Doing the post-mortem of this defeat was an extremely gruelling task. But De Villiers was up to it. “Lots of people back home wanted us to win this tournament. We played well, and had our chances. We really wanted to bring this trophy back home, but life goes on,” he said still trying to hold back his emotions. The loss typified South Africa’s travails at the showpiece ICC event.
With the kind of depth they had possessed in the batting and bowling, South Africa were the overwhelming favourites to win the title last year. Inexplicably, they faltered once again when they had their sight on the finish line. Since their return to international cricket following more than two decades of political isolation, the Proteas started as favourites in all major ICC events, but rarely have they managed to progress beyond the semifinals.
It all began 24 years ago, in that infamous semifinal at the Sydney Cricket Ground against England. A bizarre rain rule robbed them the chance of entering the finals. Since that fateful night in Sydney, South Africa have progressed to the semis in the 50-over format on three occasions, only to be knocked out each time under thrilling set of circumstances.
They have been far more consistent in the Champions Trophy, winning the inaugural edition in 1998, and then progressing to the semifinals on four subsequent occasions. In World T20s, their record is less flattering.
In the six editions, including the ongoing event, South Africa have progressed to the semifinals only twice. they had their chances in shortest format too, the most compelling one being during the semifinals of the 2014 edition against India.
Batting first, they notched up 172, but in the end they did not have an answer to Kohli’s masterclass. Like all ICC events, most expected South Africa to progress to the knock-out stage at the World T20 this time around. The reason being majority of players like AB De Villiers, Quinton De Kock, David Miller, Dale Steyn and Imran Tahir had the experience of playing in India at the IPL.
Coming in with such wealth of experience and promise, the Proteas delivered instantly scoring 229 in their opening game against England in Mumbai.
Inability to cross the finish line
However, their bowlers imploded under the carnage of Joe Root and Co. In the second game, they managed to cross the finish line, but only after the Afghans had run them close. In a must-win game against the West Indies at Nagpur, the famed Proteas batters were in knots against the Windies spinners. By the fifth over, they were 3/20, and suddenly the Faf Du Plessis-led looked like they were doing their best to wrestle back the chokers tag. Badree and Benn picked up crucial wickets upfront, and Gayle too chipped in with the ball, finishing with figures of 2/17. De Kock put up some resistance, but eventually a score of 122 was 20 runs short of a par score on a tricky Nagpur wicket.
Proteas came out with conviction. The spinners, especially Tahir and Phangiso, were brilliant, taking four wickets between them. They were well complemented by medium pacer Wiese who finished with 1/19 in his four overs. With the West Indies needing 20 runs in their final two overs, you thought the Proteas might just pull this one. But a nervy Rabada fluffed his opportunity in his final over, and the choke was once again back on the South Africans.
The Nagpur loss meant they would have to wait in the confines of the hotel rooms, anxiously figuring out how the England-Sri Lanka game would pan out.
A narrow 10-run win by England against Sri Lanka the other night at the Feroz Shah Kotla, sealed their chances for good. Yet another early exit at an ICC event.
Ahead of their inconsequential league game against Sri Lanka, Hashim Amla put up a more measured stance, a contrast to the “inconsolable” De Villiers a year ago. Amla was frank when he said the reason for their early exit was because their batting and bowling did not click.
“Yes, the results are obviously disappointing. We have not played our best cricket throughout this tournament. We did not have a game where our batting and bowling clicked at the same time. We were not consistent enough.”
The 32-year-old added that it was not an ideal situation if the team’s fate in an event depended on results from other games. Going forward, he was hopeful of a turnaround. A hope more than an assurance that South Africa would break their jinx at next year’s Champions Trophy in England. For all the die-hard fans following South African cricket, all they can now do is wait for June 2017.