The curse of South Africa
Kevin Pietersen was born in South Africa. He was a member of the KwaZulu Natal team there. After a stint with Nottinghamshire he made it to the England national team qualifying because his mother was English.
One of the high points of Pietersen’s career was his role in the 2010 T20 World Cup. His batting was tremendous and in the semi-final he belted an unbeaten 42 off 26 and in the final he made 47 off 31. He was declared the man-of-the-series.
England won its only World Cup in any format thanks to Pietersen, who happens to be South African born!
Grant Elliott was also born in South Africa. Like Pietersen he decided to change his country. One of the reasons he cited was the quota system (something that Pietersen also mentioned). After migrating to New Zealand in 2001, he finally got to play for the national side in 2008.
Till 2011, both South Africa and New Zealand hadn’t reached an ODI World Cup final and here was another South African born taking his team past the line. His 73-ball 84 was a textbook innings of how to play under pressure.
He paced his innings beautifully and kept his wicket to go totally berserk in the end in what could be arguably be called the most exciting knockout match in the history of the ODI World Cup.
Elliott has played more than 60 ODIs and has a decent average of 34+ and a decent strike rate of 77.8. There are many who boast of much better statistics, but it was Elliott who has played one of the greatest ODI innings of all time.
What is it about South African born batsmen doing something for their new country that both countries haven’t achieved?
Sports is a game of skill, talent, hard work, strategy and a bit of luck and one doesn’t want to get superstitious, but is there some kind of curse on South Africa?
They were kept out of the World Cups from 1975-87 due to the apartheid boycott. They lost out in 1992 based on the absolutely ridiculous “best overs rule”. (See: Leave ‘em Duckworth-Lewis alone!)
Even in 2015 they would have felt that they were undone by the rain. AB de Villiers was not out 65 off 45 and if you go by his history, South Africa might have fancied even 360 in 50 overs and that would have given a totally different context in a full 50 overs game.
In the 1999 World Cup Man of the Series Lance Klusener had belted an astonishing 281 runs at a strike rate of 122 and he was out just once before the last ball of the semi-final. At that time this very Klusener needed 1 run off 4 balls and he couldn’t do it.
South Africa had Graeme Smith, one of the most successful captains of all time. He won almost everything in the book except the World Cup. He beat Australia in Australia, India in India and even captained the team that chased an astonishing ODI target of 435 against the then world champions Australia.
But he choked in the World Cups. Jacques Kallis is one of the greatest all-rounders of all time and he even won the ICC Knockout Trophy (the precursor to the ICC Champions Trophy).
But he choked in the World Cups. Take a look at the 2015 World Cup semi-final with New Zealand. David Miller hit a brutal 49 off 18 balls. AB de Villiers hit a fine 65 off 45. Faf du Plessis hit a handy 82. Imran Tahir gave just 28 runs in 9 overs.
Morkel bowled his heart out for 3-59. And yet South Africa lost. Dale Steyn considered by many to be the greatest bowler in the world was belted for 76 runs in 8.5 overs. That and the fielding let them down. They were a bundle of nerves as they missed many chances on the field.
It was a brilliant semi-final, the South Africans batted and bowled beautifully and lost just in the second-last ball in one of the greatest matches of all time.
And yet, they still didn’t make it to the final. South Africa has now lost in the semi-finals of the 1992, 1999, 2007 and 2015 ODI World Cups. Add two semi-final defeats in the T20 World Cups and you can realize why all the South African players were crying on the field after Elliott hit them out of the park.
One doesn’t like to be too superstitious, but it seems there is some sort of cricketing curse on South Africa!
The author, Sunil Rajguru, is a Bengaluru-based journalist and blogger.
He blogs here