Durban — “It is a hollow feeling … not forgetting the could haves, would haves and should haves,” was what former Proteas cricketer Lance Klusener said after the South African cricket team and nation endured another World Cup semi-final loss.
When the SA team succumbed to the Australians at the Eden Gardens Cricket Stadium in Kolkata on Thursday, it marked the fifth time the Proteas failed to fire in an ODI World Cup semi-final.
After readmission, the Proteas made their first ODI World Cup appearance in Australia in 1992 and lost to England in the semis.
Cricket World Cups are played every four years, except in 1992 and 1999.
Uncannily, the Proteas reached the semis of each alternate World Cup tournament (England 1999, West Indies 2007, the 2015 event was hosted jointly by Australia and New Zealand, and India 2023) thereafter, and suffered the same fate each time.
Many critics were quick to accuse the 2023 Proteas of choking on forbidden fruit on Eden’s green lawn, while others believed they produced a gutsy fight-back and nearly snatched a win after a poor batting performance early on.
Klusener singled out the Proteas’ batting for Thursday’s failure; he also said the six fluffed catches counted against them.
“I always maintained that if we don’t score consistently, we’re never going to win a big tournament.
“We’ve never seen India blow out with the bat in all their matches thus far.
“We did that every now and then. Although we scored 400 runs in one match, we also scored 200s. Not India.”
He said losing to the Australians was another case of “we have done so much and nothing to show for it”.
“But there’s always a team that loses in a final and semi-final.”
Klusener knows well the hollow feeling of exiting a World Cup tournament in the knock-out stages.
He and Allan Donald got in a tangle in Edgbaston when the Proteas needed one more run to make the 1999 final.
In a rain-affected 2003 quarter-final played in Durban, the Proteas lost to Sri Lanka by one run. Klusener was batting with Mark Boucher when the match ended tragically for the hosts.
He said each player had his own way to deal with such disappointments.
“For me, it’s a sport, it means a lot but it’s just a game; that was how I looked at it.
“You prepare as best as you can and give it your best go. Sometimes the other team just plays better than you.
“Trust me, the guys prepared as best as anyone could have prepared for India. It just didn’t work out.”
Klusener conceded that a degree of luck was also needed.
“But we also dropped some dolly (easy) catches,” he said.
Top order batsman Gary Kirsten, who was Klusener’s teammate in the 1999 and 2003 World Cups, was optimistic about the Proteas’ chances at the tournament given the team’s potential, but agreed they blew hot and cold.
“At crucial moments in knock-out matches we need to absorb pressure. Against Australia we lost crucial wickets,” said Kirsten, who tasted World Cup success coaching the Indian team to victory in 2011.
Kirsten said the Proteas’ expectations would have been high on Thursday, considering they beat the Australians in four successive matches this year.
But he acknowledged that going all the way in the tournament was “not easy”.
He noticed that the wicket for Thursday’s match was testing and required resilience and patience from batsmen.
“The Australians showed good temperament and resilience.”
Kirsten appreciated the practitioners who help cricket teams with their mental wellness, which would be especially beneficial for players struggling with losses like Thursday’s.
“I am a big fan of teams using practitioners to help players deal with demands of the game which result in performance stress.”
He said he expected the South Africans to move on after that disappointment and shift their focus to the T20 World Cup in June, adding that they had the potential to win the tournament.
Kirsten was also excited about the future of the game in the country and commended the development initiatives.
“We have a great pathway of youngsters coming through our very robust schools system. Cricket is very healthy in our country.”
He said the world first got to see the country’s capabilities through the Proteas’ performances in the 1992 tournament, which included his half-brother Peter.
“The team’s 1992 performances were incredible.”
Kirsten said he expected the atmosphere for today’s final to be “electric”.
“I know the stadium, it’s a 100 000 seater. It’s the home of the Gujarat Titans in the IPL (where he’s involved in coaching). Two great teams made the final.”
Kirsten said India were the favourites, but the expectation on Australia was not as great and that made them dangerous.