World Cup 2003 stands tall, or perhaps that should be short, as the most chastening and embarrassing of all South Africa’s failed campaigns. Failure to progress beyond the group stages on home soil, when a likely semifinal against Kenya loomed, was too much for many supporters to comprehend, never mind digest.
The reason was the debacle at Kingsmead that saw Mark Boucher block what transpired to be the final ball of the match against Sri Lanka in the knowledge that a Duckworth/Lewis victory had been secured under increasingly heavy and, as it turned out, fatal rain.
But the players also believed the campaign had been harmed, if not undermined, by the level of hyperbole generated by the Cricket South Africa president, the late Percy Sonn. Lovable rogue he may have been, but repeatedly declaring that “our time has come” and all but presenting the trophy to Shaun Pollock’s team before they’d played a match did them no favours. The other teams accused the South Africans of arrogance.
Also a problem was the relentlessness of the PR and marketing the squad was required to perform. Barely a day went by without another trumpet fanfare and autograph-signing session. Pollock recalls that it was accepted as “part of the territory” of a home World Cup, and that nobody dared speak out publicly, but they yearned for the quiet privacy of their hotel rooms at the end of each day.
By the time the 2007 and 2011 tournaments had also ended in disaster, it was believed that a more measured and modest build-up to future tournaments might be prudent. Judging by the sendoff enjoyed (or endured) by AB de Villiers’s squad at Melrose Arch in Johannesburg on Wednesday, the collective cricket memory is just a little shorter than the four-year cycle of the World Cup itself.
At least there were no overconfident predictions or proclamations of imminent success. The only promise De Villiers made was to “fight for every game”. But the live television coverage, player interviews, vox pops and general hype did seem a little excessive – especially because it had all been done a few weeks ago at the squad announcement.
The good news is that the Proteas’ first two weeks of the tournament will be spent in Christchurch, where reminders of the devastating earthquake three years ago abound, and in sleepy Hamilton, where ‘paparazzi’ is more likely to be confused with a fizzy drink. De Villiers and his men will probably get far more done than if they had been based in the “why are you chokers?” media environment of Sydney or Melbourne.
The real action starts with the opening group game against Zimbabwe on February?15.