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South Africa in World Cups: The curious case of the empty trophy case

Things just don't add up as you begin to scratch beneath the surface trying to ascertain the unfathomable reasons why the South Africans have squandered every opportunity that has come their way to get to a first place podium finish.

WorldCup2015 Updated: Feb 07, 2015 22:13 IST
South Africa,World Cup,semi-final

Six World Cup appearances. Three semi-finals. Zero opportunities for a celebratory victory lap after winning a final.

Things just don't add up as you begin to scratch beneath the surface trying to ascertain the unfathomable reasons why the South Africans have squandered every opportunity that has come their way to get to a first place podium finish.

The game is afoot as we investigate The Curious Case Of The Empty Trophy Case.

Rewinding all the way back to 1992, the bookies have always granted favourable odds to the Proteas, who have fielded prodigious teams every four years.

Each team, however, has (in)famously faltered at crucial junctures, steadfastly sinking into a cacophony of jeers, grudgingly wearing the detestable 'chokers' tag on their lapels. The word 'chokers' initially thrown around casually has now come to be perennially associated with them.

A quick World Cup refresher course is on offer as you ride shotgun in my time machine.

Sydney 1992: The newbies of international cricket needed 22 runs of 13 balls for a place in the final when a farcical rain rule pulled the rug from under their feet and left them needing 21 of just 1 delivery. Technically not a 'choke', it was the first of many painful memories.

Birmingham 1999: 9 runs required from 6 balls and Klusener unleashed two back-to-back boundaries changing the equation dramatically to 1 run from 4 balls. The bizarre run out that followed two balls later left every South African distraught with disbelief.

Durban 2003: In a rain-interrupted match, someone misread the Duckworth-Lewis sheet. The 229 that they believed was the winning total was in fact the 'par' score and since only a win could have seen them move into the next round, the hosts crashed out of the tournament.

St Lucia 2007: This high profile semi-final saw them choke yet again as they could only muster a paltry 149, a total chased down with considerable ease by eventual champions Australia.

Dhaka 2011: Chasing a modest total of 221 in the quarter-final against the Kiwis and cruising at 108/2, they piloted their kamikaze mission on the way out of the tournament by losing their remaining 8 wickets for just 64 runs.

You don't need a degree in psychology to comprehend the overburdening nature of this emotional baggage. The diaspora of cricket fans all across the globe continue to remain baffled as time and time again, the South Africans have found themselves on an early flight back home.

Have the Fates conspired to curse this team into eternal shame? Is their Mercury perpetually in retrograde? Is the weight of expectations pulling them down? Mental fragility hiding behind a tough exterior? A classic case of analysis paralysis? Too many questions, not enough answers.

You have better odds of solving a Rubik's cube while maneuvering a unicycle with a blindfold on, pedalling in a direction opposite to that of the traffic on a one-way street.

On a positive note, they start off as strong favorites this year as well. Five vital players hold the key to a successful World Cup outing. Hashim Amla has to continue with his prolific run scoring ways to ensure they get off to good starts.

Faf Du Plessis is a vital cog in this line-up and will be expected to hold the innings together.

'Captain Marvel' AB de Villiers has all the shots in the coaching manual and some more. His exploits with the bat are awe-inspiring and his ability to punish even the good balls makes him an extremely dangerous prospect.

Dale Steyn spearheads this formidable bowling unit and Morne Morkel serves as a perfect foil. The dynamic duo is intimidating, quick and accurate, and means business.

Extraordinary mental courage and resilience will be the key ingredients if they hope to sustain their 'critical mass' till the very end. Will the cricketing fraternity witness a new world champion or will the South Africans continue to float rudderless in the sea of despair? Can they finally confirm their reservation aboard the Victory Express with a one-way ticket to Triumph Town circumventing station Déjà vu on their way? It's about time. They have been on the wait-list for a while now.

(Views expressed by the writer are personal. If you want to share your thoughts on the game, mail your write-ups to

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First Published: Feb 07, 2015 20:40 IST