The Proteas’ trials and tribulations at World Cups are well documented. In 27 years spanning seven World Cups before this one, barring our first in 1992 where the weather gods didn’t fancy the new kids on the international scene, we’ve somehow contrived to lose the plot. I don’t intend to relive those painful memories though so let’s move swiftly along!
For the first time in 20 years, the Cricket World Cup was back on UK soil. It’s always the biggest treat having a World Cup in your back garden and we’d been incredibly lucky in the ballot to secure tickets to all our games (though work commitments meant I would miss two). I would be making my debut at three grounds around England and Wales and we had a number of fun BURTSandBORTZ weekends planned as we followed the Proteas.
After the heartbreak at World Cup after World Cup, captain Faf du Plessis and coach Ottis Gibson thought they’d try something different and arrived in England with a very relaxed approach. In contrast to many other World Cups, we weren’t the favourites coming in and they tried to downplay both our chances and the importance of the World Cup. It’s just cricket and life would move on regardless. Well, that approach failed and failed miserably and what promised to be an unforgettable few weeks has turned into yet another World Cup disaster.
Let’s rewind seven weeks to the end of May. The best way I could explain my excitement to Catherine was by asking her to think back to when she was 4 and it was the night before Christmas! That’s how I felt as lay out my Proteas shirt and flag before heading to bed on that Wednesday evening (May 29th). I was up way too early the next morning and was the first one to arrive at our designated meeting spot (the local area Greasy Spoon) before we excitedly, and loudly, made our way into the ground for the Opening Game of the 2019 Cricket World Cup.
It all started so well on a muggy London morning at the Oval. Against the hosts, and one of the favourites, we won the toss, opted to bowl, threw the ball to leg spinner Imran Tahir (this was the first time ever that a spinner bowled the first ball of the World Cup) and within two deliveries we had our first wicket. Johnny Bairstow was gone first ball, England were 1/1 and life couldn’t be better.
Sadly, it’s been pretty much downhill since then. England recovered to post a daunting 300+ total (with Jason Roy, Joe Root & captain Eoin Morgan posting 50s and Ben Stokes a quick-fire 89) and to be honest, we were never really in it. We lost wickets at regular intervals, decent scores were not converted and seeing Faf skip down the wicket and throw his ticket away summed up a very disappointing batting performance as we were all out inside 40 overs and over 100 runs short.
We were back at the Oval three days later to play Bangladesh. We won our second toss and again chose to bowl. Our vaunted pace attack, minus legend Dale Steyn who still wasn’t fully fit (was he ever going to be?), never clicked and Bangladesh looked solid and composed throughout their innings. Led by a century stand between Mushfiqur Raman (78) & Shakib Al Hassan (75), and a swashbuckling 46 off 33 from Mahmadullah that saw 80 come off the final 8 overs, they posted their highest ever ODI total of 330. The predominantly Bangladeshi crowd, with their stuffed teddy tigers, were in raptures and it was a phenomenal atmosphere.
The match ebbed and flowed and while a number of Proteas got starts (Aiden Makram, David Miller, Rassie van der Dussen & JP Duminy scoring 45, 38, 41 & 45 respectively & Faf top scoring with 62), no one kicked on to that match winning hundred and in the end we fell 21 runs short. It was a great game of cricket and while bitterly disappointing to lose, all credit to Bangladesh on one of their best ever all-round ODI performances.
There was no let up as we headed to Southampton to take on co-favourites India just three days later (India were playing their opening game after the BCCI had forced the ICC, under threat of legal action, to give the Indian players a few extra day’s rest after the IPL – true story). I couldn’t get the day off work and relied on BBC 5 Live Sport commentary to keep the bad news coming. Winning our third straight toss but this time batting, we just couldn’t get going and in the face of some excellent bowling limped to a below par 227.
It was encouraging to see Kagiso Rabada and Chris Morris bowl really well though neither enjoyed much luck. As expected, it was never going to be enough and off the back of a Rohit Sharma century, India eased home with a few overs to spare and six wickets in hand. Too add insult to injury, David Miller dropped an absolute sitter that just summed up what a mess we were in. Normally one of our strengths, our fielding had let us down in all three games and this was now our worst ever run at a World Cup. It had been nothing short of a nightmare week.
The following Monday we were on the south coast as the Proteas looked to get their disastrous campaign back on track against the West Indies. It was a wet and miserable morning in London and despite all my prayers, that weather accompanied me on the train to the Ageas Bowl. In the end, only 7.2 overs of play were possible and whilst a few Saffas in the crowd joked we should gleefully take the point, I was gutted and frustrated, even angry. Yes it often rains in England but why could it not just be sunny?!
We now had almost a whole week before we headed for shores anew and a game against World Cup debutants Afghanistan at Cardiff’s Sophia Gardens. Under a cloudy sky, we won the toss and opted to bowl. Thankfully, those clouds eventually cleared and despite a few rain interruptions, we got in a full day’s cricket. Admittedly not boasting the World Cup’s best batsmen, we bowled with discipline and aggression to skittle Afghanistan for 125. Tahir was the stand-out bowler, picking up four wickets including two in his opening over, but everyone chipped in and it was wickets all round except for Beuren Hendricks.
We had hoped the Proteas would come out with intent and purpose and knock off the runs off confidently but with out-of-knick Hashim Amla just looking for time in the middle, it was a pedestrian chase as we wrapped up victory by nine wickets with just over 20 overs still to bowl. All that mattered, though, was the result. We had our first win of the World Cup and our run to the semi-final had started!
I was again tuned into BBC 5 Live Sport the following Wednesday for our must- win clash against the Black Caps. Batting first, we looked out of sync but fought hard on a tricky wicket to post a competitive 241 (this looked a distant dream at one point but Rassie continued to show why he’s so highly rated with a top score of 67 as we made 75 off the final 10 overs).
With the World Cup on the line, we came out firing and bowled beautifully. We looked determined, hungry and really up for it as we took wickets regularly to have NZ 80/4 and 137/5. As the pressure mounted, however, the ‘World Cup Proteas’ of old came to the fore. We dropped catches, missed a run out, chose not to review the faintest Kane Williamson edge and started to generally lose our composure.
Williamson looked incredibly calm under immense pressure and with support from Jimmy Neesham (23) and then Colin de Grandhomme (60) went to yet another ODI century with a six in the final over off Andile Phehlukwayo securing a four-wicket win. The Proteas had crashed out of the World Cup with three games still to play. Watching in a pub in Hoxton, I was close to tears as I saw another World Cup dream disappear into thin air.
Sri Lanka’s shock win against England the following day, however, gave us hope again – win our remaining games and, if other results went our way, we could now still qualify. After a trip to Wales the previous week, this Sunday was much closer to home and we headed to Lord’s with a spring in our step for our must-win-to-stay-in-the-World-
Well that flicker of hope provided by Sri Lanka didn’t last long! Pakistan won the toss and batted with steely intent against an ill-disciplined Proteas bowling performance. Anchored by a fluid 69 from Babar Azam and an aggressive 89 from Haris Sohail, we again conceded 300 with Pakistan finishing on 308. What irked most was the way we bowled – the World Cup was again on the line and we looked like we had one foot on the plane.
It was another really poor start with Amla back in the hut in the 2nd over before Quinton de Kock and captain du Plessis steadied the ship. Frustratingly, both failed to kick on to that match winning knock (de Kock falling for 47 and Faf 63) and while the middle and lower order all scored runs (van der Dussen, Miller and Phehlukwayo scoring 36, 31 and 46 respectively), we fell just under 50 runs short. That was that – we had crashed out of another World Cup and our time to finally put our deep World Cup scars to bed would now have to wait another four years. Sometimes it feels like these scars will never heal.
We still had two dead rubbers to play and the following week we headed north on the train and enjoyed a beautiful summer’s day in Durham and a convincing Proteas performance. This was what the World Cup was meant to be like! We had a wicket off the first ball from a smiling again Rabada, who ended with two scalps, and with both Morris and recalled Dwayne Pretorious bowling well and picking up three wickets each, we restricted Sri Lanka to 203. Our batsmen continued where the bowlers had left off and with Amla finally showing some form (80*) and captain du Plessis looking good too (96*), their unbeaten 175 run partnership saw us cruise home with over 10 overs left.
The day was topped off with my debut appearance on South Africa’s Sport 24 and this article is definitely a highlight of the World Cup!
Our final game, also up north at Manchester’s Old Trafford, was against our arch enemy Australia. Every game against the Aussies means something and while we were out, there was a lot at stake for Australia – a win would mean a semi-final against New Zealand and a loss a semi against in-form England (at a ground they hadn’t lost at in ages).
We won the toss and for the first time really in the entire World Cup showed some real intent and purpose. We chose to bat and with Amla out injured, pace-friendly Makram went on the attack from the first ball which he pushed through the covers for four. We hit 11 off the first over and were 70 for no loss after 10 before Makram fell for 34 and we were 79/1 after 11.3 overs. Once more de Kock also failed to push on (falling for 52) but anchored by a 150 run partnership between captain du Plessis (out for 100 – our first century of the World Cup, which says it all really) and our batsman of the tournament van der Dussen (eventually out for 95 inches short of the boundary off the final ball) we made our highest total of the tournament – 325.
We followed up our best batting display of the tournament with excellent bowling and fielding. We made inroads early and had Australia four down for 119. With David Warner at the crease, however, Australia were never out of it and he and Alex Carey put on over a 100 with Warner out for 122 (his third ton of the tournament). Australia still needed 99 off the final 10 and it felt like the pressure might once more get the better of us as Carey continued playing the innings of his life. Thankfully that wasn’t to be and after Carey fell for 85, Australia were all out off the penultimate delivery for 315. We had only our second ever win against the Aussie in a World Cup (the first coming way back in our opening game of the 1992 World Cup) and boy did it taste so sweet!
Bafana Bafana’s shock win against Egypt in the Afcon Round of 16 completed an uuuuuunnnnbelievable day and just for a few hours we forgot about results over the past seven weeks and celebrated what had been a very special day and an incredible way to end a disappointing World Cup campaign. See you in India in four years!
‘* – A massive thank you to Zoneboy, Maccers, Marie, Rob Cloete and anyone else I’ve missed for sharing their pictures