Cape Town – Positives? Yes, there are a few to bank for trepidation-filled South African supporters ahead of the must-win World Cup clash with New Zealand at Edgbaston on Wednesday (11:30 SA time).
Like the overall record between the countries in one-day internationals, showing clear-cut enough 41-24 supremacy in victories for the Proteas (63.07 percent).
Or the fact that when they last met in World Cup circumstances at the very same Birmingham venue, in 1999, Hansie Cronje’s South Africa posted a comfortable 74-run triumph at the Super Six stage: Herschelle Gibbs powered the SA innings of 287/5 with his 91, before the Black Caps were pinned back to a 213/8 finish.
That result also brought South Africa’s win tally in a CWC context to 2-1 over those foes, following New Zealand’s seven-wicket victory at the 1992 tournament and the 1996 avenging triumph by five wickets at Faisalabad.
But since then the Proteas have suffered all manner of World Cup angst at the hands of the New Zealanders: you might call it their 12 years of purgatory.
For between the 2003 and 2015 World Cups inclusively, it has been depressingly one-way traffic in favour of the Black Caps – four successive, highly damaging outcomes in their favour that have played significant, associated roles in the Proteas’ status as perhaps the most jinxed cricketing superpower at the event.
It is just one reason why a “payback time” conviction needs to run thick in the ranks of Faf du Plessis and his charges on Wednesday – crash for a fifth time in a row at CWC to the men from the Land of the Long White Cloud and South Africa will almost certainly be depressingly early “toast” at this one.
Here, in descending order from most recent, is a recap of that troublesome quartet of World Cup tussles:
2015, Auckland: New Zealand won by four wickets (semi-final):
The dreaded “Grant Elliott” game … where the Johannesburg-born, former Gauteng and Griquas player proved ironic, unexpected major thorn in the Proteas’ flesh, and deprived them of a place in what would have been their maiden CWC final.
His unbeaten 84 at a pulsating Eden Park, including a game-swaying, spirited last-ditch assault on SA’s legendary spearhead Dale Steyn, led to various seasoned players in the losers’ ranks slumping to the turf and in some cases weeping animatedly over another instance of shattered dreams at the event.
The win was achieved with no more than a ball to spare in a contest reduced by weather to 43 overs a side: the Proteas seemed to have earlier done everything right at the crease by notching a beefy 281 for five, Du Plessis anchoring things with his 82 before a late blitzkrieg from AB de Villiers (65no) and David Miller (49).
There had been pre-game ructions in the SA camp with the revelation that CSA pressure had been brought to bear that a less than fully fit Vernon Philander – though he fared no worse than anyone else with the ball, in truth – be selected above original intended pick Kyle Abbott.
2011, Dhaka: New Zealand won by 49 runs (quarter-final):
Call this the “unruffle Faf” game, if you wish: an acrimonious tussle (there had been plenty before, bilaterally) where Du Plessis, then a relative ODI rookie, was chortlingly surrounded by New Zealanders -- including key provocateur Kyle Mills who wasn’t even in the starting XI -- after his role in the awfully expensive run out of De Villiers.
Some argy-bargy ensued, but the fact remained that South Africa, at the time very much alive in a chase of 222 for knockout victory, slumped from 121 for four (just before the sacrifice of a budding De Villiers) to a numbing 172 all out.
Smart money had earlier suggested the Proteas would get past the post and into the semis after curtailing the Black Caps to 221 for eight, helped by some parsimonious spells from spinners Imran Tahir and Johan Botha.
In the final analysis, a knock of 83 from that slightly stormy petrel of NZ cricket, the stoutly-proportioned Jesse Ryder, made a vital difference in the outcome.
2007, Grenada: New Zealand won by five wickets (Super Eight):
This wasn’t an absolute train smash, as Graeme Smith’s South Africa would go on to squeeze their way into the semi-finals anyway. But they received something of a comeuppance, all the same, as the Black Caps comfortably bagged this Caribbean fixture.
The Proteas were always going to be struggling to get the right result after posting only 193 for seven in a full 50 overs on the initially seam-friendly surface (it was a good toss for NZ to win in drizzly, gloomy conditions).
Herschelle Gibbs, who often prospered against these foes, top-scored with 60 … but at an unusually low (certainly for him) strike rate of exactly that.
The Black Caps duly got past the score with a half-century from Scott Styris and 38 not out from player of the match Craig McMillan, who had also bothered SA with his wily medium-pace fare (3/23).
2003, Johannesburg: New Zealand won by nine wickets (pool stage):
This was really the beginning of a disappointingly premature end to South Africa’s maiden home-staged CWC.
Already having suffered defeat to West Indies in the grand tournament opener at Newlands, and with just a victory over minnows Kenya to slightly stabilise them in the interim, the Proteas were pretty close to humiliated in a seething Wanderers “Bullring” to go one from three … they would eventually fail by a whisker to make the Super Sixes cut.
It all looked so dandy when an on-fire Gibbs positively dazzled en route to 143 at almost a run a ball to take South Africa to 306/6.
But NZ skipper Stephen Fleming then played one of the innings of his ODI life as the visitors stayed composed and commanding against the SA attack even as Highveld summer rain interruptions crept into their chase.
By the time the game ended, they had comfortably achieved their reduced target of 226 from 39 overs, Fleming unbowed on 134 not out at a fractionally Gibbs-eclipsing pace: the great, but ageing, fading paceman Allan Donald suffered the rare indignity of leaking more than 50 runs in 5.5 overs.
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