T20 World Cup: Proteas on the cusp of immortality

Picture: T20WorldCup/ICC/X

Picture: T20WorldCup/ICC/X

Published Jun 29, 2024


Cape Town - The Proteas are on the cusp of immortality as they prepare to face global super giants India in the ICC Mens' T2O World Cup final at the Kensington Oval in Barbados today (4.30pm).

No senior SA men's side has ever advanced to a World Cup final, with Aiden Markram's team overcoming a 32-year semi-final hoodoo earlier in the week, when they defeated Afghanistan in Trinidad and Tobago.

Legendary former Proteas captain Graeme Smith, who was at the helm of the national teams that lost the 2007 ODI World Cup (St Lucia) and 2009 World T20 (Nottingham) semi-finals, believes today's clash in Bridgetown is the biggest day in the history of SA cricket, especially with India boasting superstars such as captain Rohit Sharma, batter Virat Kohli and fast bowler Jasprit Bumrah.

“For people who don't really follow cricket, this is like the Springboks v the All Blacks in a Rugby World Cup final. It's that big! The Proteas are coming up against the powerhouse of world cricket. The Indian team is a colossal team,” Smith told Independent Newspapers exclusively from Greece, where he is holidaying with his family.

The Proteas' record at World Cups – both in the One-Day International and Twenty20 format – since South Africa's return to international cricket after a 27-year isolation due to apartheid has been littered with disappointment.

The list of heartbreaking defeats began with the Proteas' inaugural ODI World Cup appearance, where rain intervened in the 1992 semi-final against England at the Sydney Cricket Ground leaving South Africa requiring an impossible 22 runs off one ball.

The stand-out memory for all crestfallen Proteas fans was the epic 1999 World Cup semi-final against Australia in Birmingham, where former fast bowler Allan Donald and Lance Klusener were involved in a dramatic last-over run to tie the match against Australia.

The Aussies advanced to the final due to earlier performances in the competition and the Proteas were branded with the infamous “chokers” label.

The stigma remained with the Proteas throughout the era of Smith's leadership, and further on when Faf du Plessis's team fell short against India in Dhaka in the 2014 T20 World Cup semi-final, before another drama-filled defeat by AB de Villiers' men against New Zealand at Eden Park in Auckland the next year. The latest disappointment was Temba Bavuma's side losing to Australia at Eden Gardens in Kolkata last year in the ODI World Cup semi-final.

“Every world event I hope that we going to get there. It's obviously been a journey, so many outstanding teams have given it a go, and for whatever reason, we just haven't got there. The fact that this barrier has been broken is terrific,” Smith said.

The Proteas' men, alongside the Proteas' women, who also qualified for the ICC Women's T20 final for the first time last year, have certainly brought a positive energy back to South African cricket.

Smith has played an integral role in the turning of the corner in his new position as head of SA20 – the new league that has invigorated SA domestic cricket the past two seasons.

“People can be positive about cricket in the country again, these are things that are important to me. Those are the elements I am feeling about the game,” he said.

“My ‘what if’ moments in my career are gone. I can’t change that. I live with them, try to forget them!

“We all tried to get involved to help South African cricket. There was just way too much focus on the wrong things, and drama around the game, and everything else.

“Hopefully we have played a role in benefiting South African cricket through the SA20, with the players having hopefully benefited from this exposure and be leaders for South African cricket in the future.”

The Proteas have also received well wishes from many senior luminaries, including President Cyril Ramaphosa, who posted on social media platform X (formerly Twitter):

“On behalf of all South Africans, I wish @AidzMarkram and @ProteasMenCSA the very best for your historic ICC Men’s T20 World Cup Final in Barbados on Saturday, 29 June.

“We look forward to seeing your Final tenacity, talent with bat and ball and our beautiful flag on display in the Kensington Oval Stadium.

“And of course we’re looking forward to hosting another championship team and trophy at the Union Buildings.”

Weekend Argus