Choking tag irrelevant for diverse Proteas team
The flags are up
Who wanna be No 1
Who’s gonna take up the cup
Who will be
Who’ll be king
It’s once in a lifetime chance
Who’ll rule the world
Gotta see who rule the world.
This tune was, of course, Matt Slogett and Kasey Carlone’s catchy 1992 World Cup theme song. For a 10-year-old cricket tragic it could well have been awarded a Grammy for it resembled everything good about the game I adored.
It was a different time. No cellphones. No social media. No Wifi. And certainly no saturation of live sport. M-Net was still “kif” back then with Netflix not even a figment of the imagination.
The fact that I could support “my country” in a World Cup against legends such as Imran Khan, Kapil Dev, Allan Border and others simply made me giddy with excitement. I did not care that a “whites-only” referendum was taking place during the World Cup that would decide whether South Africa would remain an apartheid state or not. My appetite for international cricket had been whet through watching World Series internationals on VHS tapes sent from Perth by my Australian expat uncle, who “went in search of a better life” and now I was ready for the Real McCoy.
And what a World Cup it was. Regardless of the fact that I was red-eyed at school the next day due to the Game of Thrones-like timing of the matches, I lived every South African ball from the moment Geoff Marsh edged Allan Donald behind to David Richardson and was given not out - there was no DRS back then and no Aussie bar Adam “Churchie” Gilchrist ever walked - to that final ball delivered by Chris Lewis (he of convicted attempted drug trafficking infamy) to Brian McMillan with South Africa requiring 22 runs from one ball at the Sydney Cricket Ground.
I wept with Peter Kirsten. And I needed to be consoled just like the crestfallen Meyrick Pringle. The dream was over.
As time passed, and my naïvety in regards to the situation in our country eroded, I realised maybe the time was not right for South Africa to win a World Cup. The sport I loved was light years away from being fully integrated and “my people” were still being denied fair opportunities.
However, the nostalgia of #CWC92 was not lost on me though when I was granted the opportunity to cover the 2015 World Cup in Australasia for Independent Media.
There I was sitting in the press box at the SCG. The grand old ground may have been spruced up in the intervening 23 years, but the iconic Members’ Stand was still there. In fact, I interviewed JP Duminy - a mate since our junior school days at Fairview Primary - within those very hallowed halls after his hat-trick against Sri Lanka that enabled South Africa to clinch their only ever knockout World Cup victory.
Sitting there with “Koppe”, I could not help but take a step back and reflect upon the fact that maybe Mzansi was making progress. Two young men from Grassy Park - or like one seasoned South African cricket journalist once termed our neighbourhood: “A ‘salt of the earth’ kind of suburb, where fathers wear blue overalls to work and kids sleep two or three to a bedroom and mothers do the washing by hand” - were both performing their crafts on the highest stage possible.
The following week’s drama at Eden Park though was a cold reminder that Mother Cricket was not entirely satisfied yet. South Africa did everything - and more - to beat New Zealand in that epic semi-final. But yet it was still not enough.
There was a myriad of reasons for the Proteas losing that game. But after deeper introspection I realised that AB de Villiers’ team was still not reflecting the vast majority of the nation. There was just one Black African player Aaron Phangiso - a left-arm spinner from Garankuwa - in the 15-man squad who could not even crack a game against the desert Sheikhs of the UAE.
This might be daft reasoning to some, but cricket and politics have always been bedfellows in South Africa.
Four years on, and I am on the verge of heading to my second World Cup - the destination now being her royal majesty’s United Kingdom.
I have been there twice previously on cricket assignments, notably the ICC World Twenty20 2009 and ICC Champions Trophy 2013, with both global jamborees culminating in semi-final disappointment. Just like that infamous #CWC99 Edgbaston semi.
It just so happens that #CWC19 marks the 20th anniversary of arguably “the greatest ODI ever”. A day doesn’t pass without someone mentioning Lance Klusener and Allan Donald’s career-defining faux pas. I can’t help though but snigger when the inevitable is posed to young Proteas: “So, just how much does that 1999 semi-final and the choking tag weigh on your shoulders?”
After a quick glance through the current Proteas 15-man squad list and the facts are that 10 players were not even teenagers yet when the “curse” was born. It’s a bit like asking Handré Pollard whether Joel Stransky’s drop goal in the 1995 Rugby World Cup final win over the All Blacks at Ellis Park will be the Bok No 10’s source of motivation to do well in Japan later this year.
There simply is no relevance, hence no baggage.
I could also not help but notice that the 2019 Proteas team is comfortably the most diverse outfit to set foot on the land of its previous colonial masters. The fact that its poster-boy, Kagiso Rabada, is the son of a Black African medical doctor that could afford to send his son to one of the Ivy League schools in Johannesburg’s plush suburbs to hone his cricket skills, along with his character, further emphasises the evolution of our rainbow nation.
Rabada’s status has certainly not gone unnoticed with the hounds of Fleet Street who were quick to appreciate the 24-year-old’s market value. In particular, Stephen Brenkley, formerly of The Independent, once stated that “he is tall, black, confident, affable, strong, smart and ambitious” and “that this guy could be a saviour” of South African cricket. Now that’s real pressure.
Fortunately Rabada is not a lone ranger. Lungisani Ngidi, whose parents hail from a small town on the edge of the Tugela River in KwaZulu-Natal, will share the new ball with Rabada. They will be backed up by all-rounder Andile Phehlukwayo.
There is no coincidence that the latter’s second name is, of course, “Lucky”. Throughout South Africa’s storied World Cup narrative, the Proteas have been devoid of that crucial element required by all championship-winning teams.
Indeed there are not many rushing to place their bets on the Proteas to lift the elusive silverware at Lord’s on July 14. Logic tells us that the batting is threadbare and the bowling unit is one injury away from being stretched to its bare bones.
But if logic is what determines World Cup winners then Imran Khan would never have stood on the podium at the MCG with his “Cornered Tigers” back in 1992.
Imran had a cause, albeit a personal one which centred around building a cancer home in honour of his mother, but he managed to drag along his teammates to the crescendo of their careers and thereby bring unbridled joy to the populous nation.
Faf du Plessis has a similar passion for the people of South Africa. He wants to bring smiles to the faces of a country that is overwhelmed by daily struggles. And he wants to achieve it with a team that relates to every South African in the land.
So with Du Plessis joined by Barbados-born coach Ottis Gibson at the helm, perhaps the Proteas can take inspiration from 2007 World Cup in the Caribbean’s theme song.
It’s the game of love and unity
Sending out invitations
All over the world
Every race, every class
Every man, every girl
Whether near, whether far
Come and join the fun...
I certainly will be. Every step of the way.