So, the World Cup jinx came back to haunt South Africa on March 25, 2011, in Dhaka against New Zealand. The Proteas were in sublime form in the group stage and only lost to England in a low-scoring thriller, as they justified their tag of being pre-tournament favourites.
South Africa came into the quarter-finals on the back of a thumping 206-run win over co-hosts Bangladesh; and though they had a few days off after that leading up to the knockout stages, it wasn't expected to affect the Proteas' run to the final. The bowlers and fielders did an outstanding job to restrict New Zealand to 221; and though Hashim Amla was out to a freakish dismissal and skipper Graeme Smith played a shot he is bound to regret now, Jacques Kallis and AB de Villiers seemed to get South Africa on course for a win but a terrific catch by the tall Jacob Oram on the boundary got rid of the ever-dependable Kallis, and this would have set panic bells ringing in the South African camp. The quick dismissals of JP Duminy quickly followed by de Villiers's run-out set the cat among the pigeons, and at this stage even the most ardent South African fan, myself included feared the worst all over again.
That worst nightmare was realised when South Africa was bowled out for 172 in 42.3 to lose yet another World Cup knockout match by 49 runs – this after having been 108 for 2 at one stage. South Africa may have erred in playing three frontline spin bowlers and could have been better off playing Colin Ingram at No. 7 to negate the long tail, but to give credit where it is due, New Zealand squeezed the Proteas and won the big moments en route to staging one of the biggest upsets of the 2011 World Cup.
As expected, the 'C' word that has been associated with South Africa in ICC tournaments is being bandied out loud and clear, but I would like to think of it has a failure to fulfill expectations and succumb to moments of madness under pressure. If this is my way of working around that 'C' word, allow me that luxury, because I am quite tired of that tag going with South African cricket.
Having said that, it is infuriating and exasperating to see South African teams fail to justify their talent and not win crunch matches in ICC tournaments – the sole exception being the 1998 Champions Trophy which the Proteas won. In non-ICC tournaments and series, South Africa look unbeatable more often than not, and the same can be said of them in the league stages of ICC tournaments. In the knockout stages of the ICC tournaments though, South Africa has always come up short in battles with their own demons which has seen them inexplicably come up second best twice in the quarter-finals against 'weaker' oppositions – West Indies in the 1996 World Cup and New Zealand in the 2011 edition.
At times, I wonder if the scars of the tied semi-final against Australia in the 1999 World Cup hangs like a Damocles' sword when South Africa get to the knockout stages of ICC tournaments.
The need of the hour for South African cricket could potentially be working on mental toughness in simulated match pressure situations, and hopefully that will make the difference when it comes to crunch situations in matches, including the knockout stages of ICC tournaments starting with the 2012 Twenty20 World Cup.
South Africa is too good a team to be without a World Cup trophy; and while the 2011 edition of the mega-event was potentially its best opportunity to win an ICC title again, the hopes of a nation, its team and its fans will now all be focussed on the 2012 T20 World Cup where it will be hoped the knockout round jinx surrounding South Africa comes to an end. It may take some time for South Africa to bounce back from the massive disappointment of exiting the 2011 World Cup in the quarter-finals stage, but when they take the field for their next series, the Proteas will not need any incentive to re-assert their superiority where it really matters – in the middle – as South Africa looks to show why they are regarded as one of the top teams in the business. Oh, and then, of course, there is the T20 World Cup to look forward to, where South Africa will get another chance to get that jinx off their back.