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Proteas' empty cupboard


South_Africa_India_cricket_Test_battingWith the kind of depth, batting and bowling, that South Africa possess, they are the almost always the favourites to win titles and trophies each year.

While addressing the press after his side’s heart-wrenching loss to New Zealand in the nail-biting semi final of the 2015 World Cup, 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, 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.

It was an old story: despite being the favourites, they inexplicably faltered once again just shy of 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 have almost never managed to progress beyond the semi finals.

It all began 24 years ago, in that infamous semi final at the Sydney Cricket Ground against England. A bizarre rule regarding run rate adjustment after rain robbed them of 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.

They have been far more consistent in the Champions Trophy, winning the inaugural edition in 1998, and then progressing to the semi final on four subsequent occasions. In T20 World Cups, their record is less flattering.

In six editions, including the recent event, South Africa have progressed to the semi final only twice, including the incredibly compelling match against India in the 2014 edition. Batting first, they notched up 172, but in the end they did not have an answer to Kohli’s masterclass.


This time around, as in all ICC events, most expected South Africa to progress at least to the knock-out stage, as players like AB de Villiers, Quinton de Kock, David Miller, Dale Steyn and Imran Tahir had the experience of playing in India thanks to the IPL.

Coming in with such a wealth of experience and promise, the Proteas delivered instantly, scoring 229 in their opening game against England in Mumbai. However, their bowlers imploded under the carnage wreaked by 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 had no answer to the Windies spinners. By the fifth over, they were 3/20, and suddenly the Faf du Plessis-led outfit 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, 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 would think the Proteas might just pull it off. But a nervy Rabada fluffed his final over, and the choke once again haunted the South Africans.

The Nagpur loss meant that they would have to wait in the confines of their hotel rooms, anxiously waiting to see how the England-Sri Lanka game would pan out.

A narrow 10-run win by England against Sri Lanka at the Feroz Shah Kotla sealed their chances. Yet another early exit at an ICC event.

Ahead of their inconsequential game against Sri Lanka that they won, Hashim Amla took 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 will 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.

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