Another major tournament, so much hype and expectation and ultimately bitter disappointment. The tournaments and grounds may change but the result continues to be the same – the Proteas simply fail to win when it matters.
Since we last won our first and only ICC event – the inaugural equivalent of the Champions Trophy in Bangladesh in November 1998 – seven more of these, five World Cups and six ICC World Twenty20 tournaments have passed without the Proteas’s holding the winners’ trophy. Like every other Proteas supporter and cricket fan, I simply don’t understand why we consistently underperform at major tournaments.
(The Champions Trophy is the world’s 2nd most prestigious one-day international (ODI) tournament, after the World Cup, with the world’s top 8 teams qualifying. This year saw hosts England, Australia, New Zealand and Bangladesh in Pool A with us, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka in pool B).
Our build-up to the Champions Trophy was no different to previous years as we climbed to No 1 in the ODI rankings on the back of series whitewashes of Australia and Sri Lanka, amongst others (the 5-0 sweep of the Aussies was our 1st every whitewash of the old enemy). We also enjoyed good preparation with a three-match series against the hosts before the tournament began, though we did lose the series 2-1.
Tickets were sold in a lottery and we were fortunate to get for both the pool games we applied for though we were unsuccessful for the final. First up we headed to The Oval to watch us take on Sri Lanka, a team in transition with a number of youngsters. It was a gorgeous day in south London and while the Proteas recorded a comprehensive victory in the end, we didn’t look at our best. We started cautiously and then after doing all the hard work and setting a great platform (189/1 after 34 overs), we failed to really hammer home the advantage. Anchored by Hashim Amla’s 25th ODI century, our score of 299 was by no means a poor one but we would have wanted 20-30 more after the platform we had.
Sri Lanka started strongly and raced to 69 without loss off just 8 overs before the Proteas pulled things back, eventually bowling them out for 203. Leg-spinner Imran Tahir was again the star with 4-27, demonstrating why he’s one of the world’s best-ranked ODI bowlers.
While we certainly hadn’t played our best, we were hoping we’d build on the win and improve as the tournament went on. That wasn’t to be and the mid-week results, with us losing to Pakistan and Sri Lanka chasing down a remarkable 320 against India, meant that our final pool game against India was effectively a quarter-final with the winner progressing to face Bangladesh in the semi-final.
We headed back to the Oval on another fine summer’s day and while we were nervous given our history in major tournaments, we had a phenomenal team with players in form and the belief never dies. The ground was packed and the atmosphere was unbelievable and we were hopelessly outnumbered in a sea of blue.
Alas – our excitement quite quickly turned to disappointment.
Sent into bat, we had a solid if unspectacular start with Quinton de Kock scoring a half-century and the Proteas reaching 116 after 24 overs when de Kock fell. With good friends Faf du Plessis and captain AB de Villiers at the crease, it was ticking along well and at 140 after 28 overs, we looked nicely set up to push on and post a great total.
Things can change so quickly in cricket and when AB was run, followed by a farcical 2nd run-out just five balls later with du Plessis and Miller ending up in the same crease, the wheels came off and we were all out for 191 in under 45 overs. We had lost 8 for 51!
While our collapse was abysmal, nothing must be taken away from India who were simply superb. So often sloppy in the field, they were precise and aggressive and really put us under tremendous pressure, not just with their brilliant fielding but some excellent bowling.
With a powerful batting line-up, 191 was never going to be enough and the total was duly chased down with 12 overs still to be bowled. India were through to play Bangladesh and we were left to continue the old debate – what on earth had gone so horribly wrong?