Melbourne: It was all just familiar in the end. A World Cup. South Africa. And an exit that defies all the logic.
We have seen that over the years — 1992, 1999, 2011, 2015 and and now add the T20 World Cup 2022 too to that long list of slides. South Africa needed just a win, a simple, straightforward win at the Adelaide Oval and enter the semifinals of the World Cup in Australia.
They had the perfect opponent too — Netherlands. Their pedigree in cricket is nowhere close to what they have in football, a mere cricketing outpost still.
You would have expected South Africa to steamroll a clutch of assembled cricketers and sail into the semis. But the Proteas fumbled for reasons only the Lord above knows best. Even the target of 159 was not of any imposing nature, a sensible, calm chase would have done the job for them. But all they could muster was 145 and a 13-run defeat.
It is even more unfathomable because South Africa actually had a good side, you can call it even powerful. Their bowling strength and determination were on view when they held their nerves against India in a low-scoring thriller at Perth a few days back.
The might of the Proteas was evident when they steamrolled Bangladesh for 104 in a Super 12 match of Group 2. They had players like David Miller, Rilee Roussouw, Quinton de Kock, Anrich Nortje and Kagiso Rabada in their ranks.
But when it mattered the most, nothing of those came onto the field. All they had on Sunday was an endless amount of trepidation and nerves. The Dutch kept chipping on at their opponents and eventually SA found it hard to get out of the trap.
South Africa head coach Mark Boucher summed it up. “Gutted, to be honest,” Boucher began. “I think the more you don't do well in World Cups, I think it does start playing in your head a bit. I think that's just natural.
“I don't think that's been the case of late. We've played in some tight games in World Cups and we've actually won them. We put ourselves under pressure with the bat a bit up front by losing a few wickets,” added Boucher.
But captain Temba Bavuma, who had a horror run with the bat in the whole tournament, was much more direct while analysing that defeat to the Netherlands. On this day, there was no way for him to shy away from addressing that ‘C’ word issue.
“The chokers tag will always be there until we find ourselves in a situation when we enter a final and we come up on the right side of a result,” said Bavuma.
When will that moment of liberation arrive? No one will be able to tell that with certainty. But till then South Africa will have to carry that heavy mark on their shoulders. It’s their own making too!