South Africa still agonises over the run that got away
More than 9,000 runs have been scored at the 2003 World Cup but for South Africans every one of them pales into insignificance when conversations turn to 'The Run'.Updated: Feb 25, 2003 12:44 IST
More than 9,000 runs have been scored at the 2003 cricket World Cup but for South Africans every one of them pales into insignificance when conversations turn to 'The Run'.
The country still seems to be traumatised by the memory of that four-year-old, incomplete 22 yards, the run that got away and cost the team a place in the 1999 World Cup final in England.
The mid-wicket mix-up between Lance Klusener and Allan Donald at Edgbaston, leading to a semi-final tie with Australia, appears to bubble back to the surface of the collective South African consciousness on an almost daily basis.
The newspapers were back at Edgbaston over the weekend.
"It's as if there's a national psyche hell-bent on searching for that one run," the Sunday Times said. The incident has been turned into "a form of self-flagellation".
The whipping has intensified in recent weeks, after South Africa's poor start to the 2003 tournament.
Donald, struggling for form and rhythm and with only one wicket for 106 runs in two games, has been the main scapegoat, with supporters and former team mates calling for his sacking.
It is hard to know who to blame for this national angst but it is clear that South Africans are masters at heaping pressure on themselves.
They also appear to be much less brazenly self-confident than they might appear to outsiders, a fact ruthlessly played upon by Ricky Ponting's Australians.
Despite Australia's clear cricketing dominance -- they have beaten South Africa in eight of their last 11 one-dayers and five of their last six tests -- South Africa's media has constantly crowed that, should Shaun Pollock's side win the March 23 final, they would become the first hosts to win the cup.
The team have also been regularly reminded that Francois Pienaar's rugby union side united the nation by winning the 1995 World Cup on home soil, while the soccer team won the African Nations Cup.
Pienaar, indeed, addressed Pollock's team just before the cricket tournament, while there were also meetings, supposedly inspirational, with President Thabo Mbeki and Nelson Mandela.
The players have done themselves no favours either.
When things started to go wrong, with Group B defeats by West Indies and New Zealand, batsman Herschelle Gibbs inadvisably suggested that the late Hansie Cronje's leadership was being missed.
It did not appear to have occurred to Gibbs that, in so doing, he was undermining Pollock.
On Monday, the under-siege South African team retreated from the public gaze in an attempt to regroup at home with their families.
It may prove a crucial decision, before the hosts take on Sri Lanka on March 3 in Durban. That game will almost certainly decide whether they reach the Super Six stage.
On the face of it, Pollock's men should be favourites, having brushed the Sri Lankans aside 4-1 in a recent one-day series.
In the current climate, however, anything seems possible.
One thing is certain. When the South African team re-emerge in a couple of days, the public's high expectations will still be waiting for them.
The pressure is pervasive, according to Clinton Gahwier, the team's psychologist, even at the most mundane of evening functions.
"It's almost a no-win situation," he told the Sunday Times. "They sign autographs and attend functions and almost by definition they're going to disappoint people because they aren't going to fulfil all their demands.
"Just by drawing the line they are going to displease people... It's a catch-22 situation."
If South Africa do survive to make the second stage, they will run into the all-conquering 1999 champions.
The Australians have never been shy about offering the odd sledge -- former captain Steve Waugh liked to call it "mental disintegration".
Pollock and his batsmen should not be too surprised if Ricky Ponting's side greet them to the crease with never-ending references to that missing Edgbaston run.
First Published: Feb 25, 2003 12:44 IST