South Africa’s never-ending tale of pain and agony in World Cups

PC – ICC. A dejected-looking Miller after the completion of the final

Somewhere in the storehouse of my memory now lives a weeping David Miller. The experienced cricketer couldn’t hold back the tears after South Africa slipped to a gut-wrenching seven-run defeat in the T20 World Cup final against India. 

It is an enduring image to add to all those heartbreaking moments that South Africa have suffered over a little more than three decades in cricket World Cups. The rain-rule fiasco in the 1992 World Cup semifinal, the mix-up between Lance Klusener and Allan Donald in the 1999 World Cup semifinal, the blunder surrounding the DL method in 2003, a depressed Dale Steyn lying on the pitch after Grant Elliott took New Zealand home in 2015, and now, Miller’s tears – South Africa’s journey has been full of pain and agony.

Yes, Hansie Cronje did hoist the ICC Knockout trophy in 1998 in Bangladesh, but at a time when the event that became the Champions Trophy was viewed as little more than an experiment. To this day, that feels like a small oasis amid a collection of heart-wrenching moments. In the 2024 edition of the T20 World Cup, you wondered whether all those traumatic images would be replaced by joyous celebrations of South Africa lifting the cup. It wasn’t to be. 

They came very close to completing the job of chasing down a substantial total in slightly tricky conditions. All that South Africs required was 26 off 24 deliveries, with Henrich Klaasen still in the middle. The No. 5 batter had just tonked Axar Patel to all corners of the ground and looked in prime form to guide South Africa past the finish line. And then, it happened. Klaasen edged a Hardik Pandya off-cutter to the ‘keeper. Probably, the injury time-out that Rishabh Pant took played a part in Klaasen losing his concentration. 

Whatever it was, that one wicket triggered a mini-collapse, culminating in Miller being expertly caught in the deep by Suryakumar Yadav. India, eventually, won an ICC event after 11 long years. In hindsight, with the required run-rate just around six, Klaasen could have tried to rotate the strike for the next couple of overs. If you glance through the South African batting unit, it was quite evident that after Miller at No.6, they didn’t have the necessary depth. Moreover, Jasprit Bumrah, comfortably the finest bowler of the tournament, still had an over up his sleeve. 

The unforgiving nature of sport is such that there is no place for ifs and buts. All that Aiden Markram and his band of boys can do now is move forward from this shattering experience. As it is said, hope springs eternal. But after so many near misses in ICC events, you start to wonder whether that cliche actually applies to South Africa. 

Who knows? South Africa might go on to win the next T20 World Cup or even the 50-over World Cup to be held at home in 2027. A peek at all those slip-ups in the past wouldn’t give much confidence to bet on the Proteas adding World Cup silverware to their trophy cupboard.