Should South Africa finally shed the World Cup ‘chokers’ tag by beating Australia in their semi-final on Thursday it may feel doubly sweet given the prominent role their opponents have played in creating the myth of the panicky Proteas.
Nearly a quarter-century has passed since the classic 1999 World Cup semi-final where South Africa needed one run from four balls for victory, only to draw the match and be eliminated due to Australia’s higher placed finish in the Super Sixes stage.
Far more than just a bleak day for South African cricket, the Edgbaston debacle remains a historical reference point for all the ills that have since befallen the Proteas at World Cups.
While the semi-final was dramatic enough in isolation, South Africa’s doom was actually a tragicomedy in two parts, with act one being the final Super Six match against Australia days earlier.
Australia captain Steve Waugh played the villain to perfection, scoring a match-winning, unbeaten century after being bizarrely reprieved by Herschelle Gibbs.
Gibbs had jogged to his side at mid-wicket to take a simple catch but spilled the ball when set to fling it skyward in celebration.
“You’ve just dropped the World Cup,” were the words attributed to Waugh after Gibbs’s drop, though neither player has ever corroborated the remark.
It proved the sharpest of turning points as Waugh guided Australia to victory with two balls to spare, saving his team from the brink of elimination.
South Africa, chasing a modest 214 for victory in the teams’ re-match in the semi-final, entered the final over at 205 for nine, with Lance Klusener on strike and tail-ender Allan Donald at the other end.
Klusener thumped fours off paceman Damien Fleming’s first two balls to leave South Africa needing one run from the final four balls for a place in their maiden World Cup final.
Klusener mishit the next two deliveries but made an ill-fated dash for a run on the second, only for Donald to be caught unawares.
South Africa’s humiliation was complete when Donald dropped his bat when finally taking off for the run and wicketkeeper Adam Gilchrist whipped off the bails.
World Cup setbacks have piled up for the Proteas ever since.
They were eliminated from their home World Cup in 2003 after miscalculating the adjusted winning target in a rain-hit match against Sri Lanka.
Four years later they crashed to a heavy defeat in the semis against Australia, and a stunning batting collapse in the 2011 quarter-finals saw them beaten by New Zealand.
In 2015, New Zealand batsman Grant Elliot smashed Dale Steyn for six to sink South Africa in the semi-final in Auckland.
Former Australia wicketkeeper Brad Haddin said he would waste no time in bringing up South Africa’s World Cup misfires if he was playing against them in Thursday’s semi-final in Kolkata.
“I’d be reminding them of that (history) as soon as we walk on the field,” TV pundit Haddin said this week.
“They’ll have enough going on in their own heads and we’ll have a few players reminding them of that.”
- World Cup 2023
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