New Delhi: South Africa's World Cup ride is nothing short of Nelson Mandela's 'Long Walk to Freedom' but while Madiba managed to overcome all the bumps on road to freedom from apartheid, his cricket team is yet to master the art of manoeuvring past pot holes that always do them in at the ICC World Cups.
The pedigree of South African cricketers has never been in question; it's just that they lose it in the mind when it comes to managing the pressure in the cooker.
But it's high time that the Proteas shrug off the 'chokers' tag like a snake giving up its skin and pull over the champions jacket come April 2 when the winner will be crowned in Mumbai.
No South African, cricketers or fans, would invite Toms peeping into their unceremonious exits in major ICC events but it could be a psychological exercise to look at what went wrong and learn what not to do in such close finishes.
The foreword to South Africa's infamous World Cup history was penned down in the 1992 edition in Australia, when South Africa first savoured an ICC event after coming out of the apartheid. But an interesting fact about the ensuing chapters of that book is that South Africa have number 'one' central to their misfortune.
It was the semifinal against England in 1992, rain came and Mr. Duckworth and Mr. Lewis presented the Proteas with cricket's most bizarre scenario. They were asked to make 22 runs off 'one' ball. "Somebody pinch me," Brian McMillan (who was batting at that time) must have said.
Then came England in 1999. Again the semifinal, but this time against Australia. Needing nine to win off the last over, Hansie Cronje's team had just one wicket left to play with. But Lance Klusener's two boundaries off the first two Damien Fleming balls hushed the Aussies in the crowd.
A close run-out call brought the 'oohs' and 'aahs' out but what happened after that was a silent death.
Klusener almost took his team through, until Allan Donald was found biding the dust in the middle of the pitch, running as if he was blind-folded by the Aussies who were all inside the 30-yard circle. Donald was run out, it was a tie; and since the South Africans had lost to Australia during the league phase, the Kangaroos went through to the final.
It was a tie in 1999 and it was tie once again in 2003 in front of the home crowd, although heavens opened up this time only to wash away an African dream from becoming reality.
That number 'one' once again kept South Africa from qualifying for the 'Super Six' stage. A team really has to be unfortunate to lose like that.
Rain was in the air but South Africa had things well under control with Mark Boucher until he committed a howler on the last ball before rain came pouring down. The wicketkeeper defended it, thinking that they were ahead of the cut-off score at that time. Instead, they were bang level with Sri Lanka and had Boucher scored 'one' more run, his team would have been through.
But that's how things stood. South Africa were out of the World Cup, at home. The only solace was that they had to drive back home instead of boarding a flight.
So who should one blame? Yes, there is definitely scope for improvement in the D/L system. But we can also say that the Proteas always buckle down under pressure. Having said that, will it be any different this time? Wait and watch!