Seven shy, but Proteas restored respect for SA cricket

The Proteas were left dejected after losing to India by seven runs on Saturday in the ICC T20 World Cup final. | AFP

The Proteas were left dejected after losing to India by seven runs on Saturday in the ICC T20 World Cup final. | AFP

Published Jul 1, 2024


Zaahier Adams


It was a cold winter’s day in Johannesburg on Saturday. Dark clouds had formed and enveloped the horizon.

But still the Proteas’ die-hards, many old enough to have been scarred by events since 1992, braved the elements to come out in support of Aiden Markram and his team in their first-ever appearance in an ICC World Cup final at the official fan park at the Wanderers.

There were also plenty of children, blissfully unaware of everything, just enjoying the jumping castles that were placed out on the Wanderers outfield. It made for a festive atmosphere with everyone filled with hope that this could finally be the Proteas’ day.

India won their second T20 World Cup on Saturday, 14 years after their first triumph. | AFP

Each Indian wicket to fall was greeted with shrieks of delight. The loudest cheer being reserved for India’s master batter Virat Kohli’s eventual dismissal.

It just about coincided with a period where it seemed the “cricket gods” were finally pleased with the Proteas. It was as if they had lifted the match-fixing curse of Hansie and all the racial wrongdoings inflicted upon players of a previous era.

Suddenly, the grey skies had given way to a perfect Highveld sunset that shone down upon the Wanderers in all its glory.

The crowd that had swollen considerably during the Indian innings to now almost filling the entire Bullring, looked up at the heavens and collectively believed the Proteas could chase down a record score in a T20 World Cup final.


Because, “hulle weet nie wat ons weet nie (They don’t know what we know)”, was the cry when the Proteas walked out to bat. And for the next two hours every ball was an event. Boundaries were greeted with exhilaration. Proteas wickets with despair and deafening silence.

But like a bubbling volcano, it all built up to Heinrich Klaasen’s 24-run demolition of Axar Patel. The Bullring roared like it was 2005 and the 438-game all over again. People would later tell me they could hear the noise reverberate all the way down Corlett Drive.

Thirty runs from 30 balls. That was the equation for the Proteas to be crowned world champions for the very first time.

Surely, not even the Proteas could lose it from here. Years of disappointment were about to be erased. Markram’s men were not just playing for themselves. They were carrying every Protea that had come before them on their backs. It was for every South African that had made their way to Barbados. And for the 56 million people back home.

By now, of course, you know all about the drama that transpired. The absolute disbelief when Suryakumar Yadav completed a miraculous catch on the boundary. The tension inside the Wanderers waiting for the third umpire’s call on the Kensington Oval big screen was stomach churning.

The dream was over. David Miller, the Proteas’ most experienced T20 international ever and last hope, was gone.

The remaining five balls – they ended up being six due to a Hardik Pandya wide – were merely academic as the Wanderers emptied out, emotionally drained in disappointment, leaving behind only scattered flags on the outfield.

That dreaded feeling had returned. The nausea that only the Proteas have the ability to make anyone experience in the pit of their stomach. But just like after Edgbaston 1999, and Auckland 2015, and the numerous other knock-out disappointments, the sun rose again the next morning and the sickening feeling began to dissipate.

Only this time, the realisation was this Proteas Class of 2024 had actually gone where no Men’s team had gone before.

That they can and should still look back on the competition with a great degree of pleasure. Of course, the regret of getting so close to returning to Mzansi with a first-ever World Cup trophy will take some time to digest, but the memories they provided to the nation over the past month have been unforgettable.

After years of mediocrity and unnecessary boardroom drama, this Proteas squad restored the respect of South African cricket on the global stage. And for that alone they should be lauded.

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