South Africa and New Zealand ... There are arguably no two bigger adversaries in the international sporting arena.
And while it may previously have been associated only with the oval ball, as the world witnessed so gloriously once again in their epic Rugby World Cup final showdown in Paris last weekend, it has spilled over to cricket too.
The Proteas and Black Caps have forged a rivalry that may not go back over 100 years like the Springboks and All Blacks but they have certainly added their own story to the rich tapestry of contests between these two great sporting nations – and particularly at ICC Cricket World Cups.
Think back to Dhaka 2011. The Proteas were overwhelming favourites in this quarter-final but through a combination of the portly Jesse Ryder, 12th man Kyle Mills’ verbal assault on Faf du Plessis and Jacob Oram’s previously innocuous medium-pacers, the Black Caps completed the heist.
And then there was Auckland 2015. Who could ever forget the drama that unfolded at Eden Park on that fateful semi-final night?
Rain, Brendon ‘Baz’ McCullum and Joburg-born Grant Elliott all came together to deliver the biggest punch in the gut that left Proteas legends AB de Villiers and Morné Morkel in tears and a crestfallen Dale Steyn sprawled on the turf.
Birmingham 2019 was never quite going to match up but it certainly gave it a good go, with Kane Williamson taking his team over the line in the final over as the Proteas fell short again.
Rassie van der Dussen was part of that SA team four years ago that had their World Cup hopes dashed by that Edgbaston defeat.
He feels they are now in a much better position – not just on the field – to right the wrongs of the past when these two titanic rivals meet again Wednesday in Pune (10.30am).
“I think the situations we faced in the past four years, whether it be Covid, whether it be Black Lives Matter, SJN, various political stories that we’ve had back home and had to manage as a team has really forced us to pull together as a team,” Van der Dussen said.
“And I suppose, the effect of us being really tight off the field as well, really knowing each other intimately ... There’s a real connection almost between any two members of the squad.
“So, I think there’s definitely something different in this team. I think we’re blessed in a sense that we’re in a great space now.
“We’ve had to deal with quite a lot of controversy over the last three years. So, that’s really put us in good stead.”
Resemblance with the Springboks
The language emanating from Van der Dussen bears a great resemblance to Siya Kolisi’s triumphant Springboks.
“We take massive inspiration from them, massive learnings and lessons from them as a team – how they go about what they do, what they stand for, the purpose they play for,” the Proteas No 3 said.
“And I think Siya mentioned in a press conference that if you’re not from South Africa, you don’t really understand what it means or what sporting achievements mean for the people at home and for us. So, we definitely take massive inspiration from that.”
Arguably the biggest lesson the Proteas could take from the Boks is the manner in which they absorb pressure and are still able to emerge from “dark places” on the other side.
The likes of Trent Boult and Matt Henry will certainly provide the heat with the new ball today for Bavuma, De Kock and Van der Dussen to counter, while another former Joburger in Devon Conway – along with a young upstart in Rachin Ravindra – could make it a long night for Rabada, Marco Jansen and others.
But if the Proteas want to be “mentioned in the same sentence of those guys (Springboks)”, this is the start of a road that could ultimately be littered with green and gold.