The incessant rain at the Cricket World Cup in England has given us ample time to ruminate over South Africa’s unhappy relationship with the global showpiece.
Minimal Margins, SuperSport’s fascinating seven-part documentary on the Proteas’ failures at the World Cup – by dint of being played on loop every time there is a rain delay or a rained-out game (which has been often) – has been one such way to drive that message home.
For those who haven’t seen it, the series features whodunit accounts by the chief protagonists involved in the seven World Cups South Africa has been to, beginning with the first after the fall of apartheid in Australia in 1992, which promised so much, but ultimately set the ball rolling as far as the Proteas’ curse in the tournament is concerned.
The level of detail is as insane as it is gripping, but literally the most eye-catching bit is the fact that former Proteas fast bowler Allan Donald – the chief architect of that incomplete single in the semifinal against the Aussies at Edgbaston in the UK – is sporting a shiner in all his interviews.
Having been involved in the incident that forever gave the Proteas the chokers tag, there is something fitting about his having a black eye in the documentary because it is the perfect illustration for the abusive relationship South Africa has with this tournament.
Rain, and barely existent rules to govern that eventuality, did it for the 1992 team; Donald’s non-selection and a certain Brian Lara snuffed the Proteas’ light out four years later; the most famous incomplete single in history introduced us to the word ‘choking’ in 1999; an inability to work out the Duckworth-Lewis sheet tripped them up at home in 2003; rampant Aussies got in the way in 2007; the choke reared its ugly head again in the 2011 quarterfinal against New Zealand; and the Kiwis did it again in the 2015 semis.
Summed up, South Africa’s struggles at World Cups have been down to the following: rain has always stalked them; selections and tactics have been hit and miss; an inability to handle pressure has been a real issue; and Australia, New Zealand and the West Indies have proven to be bogey opponents in must-win games.
We’ve all been quick to call the Proteas useless and reduce this year’s campaign to clever memes mocking them, what with their first four games having produced three defeats – one of them to Bangladesh – and their only point coming from a rained-out match against the West Indies.
But maybe the time has come for us to realise that South Africa’s relationship with the Cricket World Cup, like the kids say, needs Jesus.
One can never be sure, but about the only thing the Proteas haven’t tried in their desperate quest to win the World Cup is see a sangoma.
In 1992, they spoke with former Wallabies coach Alan Jones; they had Tim Noakes four years later; came armed with Bob Woolmer’s CIA-esque earpiece in 1999; had former Bok captain Francois Pienaar give them a talk on winning a World Cup at home in 2003; took former Springbok sports psychologist Henning Gericke to India in 2011; and have all had James Kerr’s book Legacy, which details how the All Blacks overcame their choking, as prescribed reading.
But the result has depressingly been a recurring nightmare, even though their unofficial campaign motto this year is something along more laid-back and pragmatic lines like: “It may be a World Cup, but it’s still cricket.”
I was 15 when the Proteas first had their chastening experience at a World Cup. At the time, I thought winning was only a matter of time. But I’m starting to think I may not see a World Cup win in my lifetime.
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