ICC Champions Trophy

Proteas’ hoodoo not beaten yet

2013-06-15 07:18
AB de Villiers (AFP)
Cape Town – So have 21 years of hurt for South African cricket ended?

It is tempting to think so, given the once-in-a-blue-moon event of the Proteas succeeding in advancing at a key stage of an International Cricket Council tournament – rather than holding their heads in angst and disbelief – from a weather-affected humdinger.

Friday’s Duckworth/Lewis-determined tie with West Indies at Cardiff, in their final Group B fixture at the Champions Trophy, meant South Africa squeezed into the semi-finals behind already confirmed group winners India, with the plucky Caribbean side agonisingly eliminated on the grounds of inferior net run rate to AB de Villiers’s side.

The result ended an infamous little catalogue of tournament exits for the country in rain-marred matches at global gatherings, until now always at World Cups.

Few will forget the drama of South Africa’s semi-final elimination by England from their maiden World Cup in Australia in March 1992 when -- still some seven years before the ICC formally approved the Duckworth/Lewis method of deciding the outcome of interrupted limited-overs internationals – an initial reduced requirement of 22 runs to win off 13 deliveries with four wickets in hand at the SCG was slashed to an unattainable 22 off one ball as Brian McMillan glumly returned to the crease to pat out the remaining delivery and shake hands with the winning opposition.

The Proteas then suffered the misfortune at their first home-staged World Cup, in 2003, of misreading by one fatal run the requirement to beat Sri Lanka in their last pool game at Kingsmead, as niggling rain became more pronounced at a critical time and the umpires called the players off – South Africa thus failed by a whisker, as the teams tied, to make the cut for the Super Sixes onward phase.

Throw in another tied elimination from a World Cup at the semi-final stage against Australia at Edgbaston in 1999 – although that game was not influenced by the elements – and the country’s reputation for uncanny misfortune has only swelled, also contributing to the unwanted mantle of South Africa being branded major-tourney “chokers” by many at home and abroad.

Against that backdrop, De Villiers’s class of 2013 finally getting the rub of the green dramatically from a consistently soggy day’s cricket at Sophia Gardens carries the agreeable scent of catharsis, a significant purging of demons.

Or does it?

I would argue that for the monkey to really be swotted from the Proteas’ collective backs, once and for all, they now have to go on and win their first ICC one-day silverware of any kind since the maiden Champions Trophy in Dhaka in 1998 under the captaincy of the late Hansie Cronje.

Otherwise, this particular occurrence of Lady Luck smiling warmly on the South Africans – though let’s not forget they might well have won under more orthodox circumstances too -- will simply slip into relative insignificance in the annals, particularly given that this event is the poorer cousin of the World Cup anyway and an endangered beast at that.

But should the Proteas win their next two possible matches – starting with a semi-final against yet-to-be-established opponents at The Oval on Wednesday (11:30) – the thrilling Cardiff tussle will be recalled infinitely more vividly as the game that smashed the hoodoo and thus went a massive way to facilitating ascension to the crown.

That absent colossus of modern SA cricket, Test captain and currently injured ODI batsman Graeme Smith, is just one influential figure prepared to dream that going all the way looks so much more promising a prospect now.

“That little bit of luck can bring success,” he said in post-match review during his ongoing guest duty as a SuperSport studio expert. “Maybe it’s our time.

“I’ve got a bit of a feeling that things will run for us now. The guys themselves will also believe that they can beat whoever they face now.

“It was getting rather squeaky, so it was nice to finally get the reward from Duckworth/Lewis; hopefully it bodes well for the semi.”

Smith did sound one cautionary note, saying that although the Proteas’ nerve generally held in Friday’s cliff-hanger, there were still periods where they briefly lost the plot.

“We haven’t responded that well (at the tournament as a whole) when batsmen have put us under pressure; we can look a little at sea for a while.

“But we’ve had some good time in our legs now ... and just two matches left to win the tournament. I’d like to think that after this (tight) game we can now go and mow someone down.”

So will many of the long-suffering Proteas limited-overs watching public, you can be sure ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing


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