From the unmitigated heights of the Springboks’ Rugby World Cup victory to the depths of mauling suffered by the men’s cricket team; from the inspiring performance by our too-oft neglected netball team who upset the world order, to the failure of Banyana to match the glory of the previous season — it has been an emotional year. A year where our sporting teams have reiterated the incredible tenacity and large dollops of faith that is required to be called a true ‘South African’
A winning year for SA netball team
The Proteas jumped at the opportunity at this year’s International Netball Federation World Cup and secured a semifinal play-off for the first time in 24 years. The last time they achieved this was in 1995 when they went on to win the silver medal — which was their best-ever finish.
This year, they would eventually earn a fourth-place standing. They narrowly lost to Australia (55-53) in the semifinals, but this campaign helped set the agenda moving towards 2023, when Cape Town will host the World Cup.
The team reached the semifinals on a high, after winning four of their five group matches, losing only to England. One of these matches was against Jamaica, who were ranked as No 2 in the world at the time.
England’s Roses seemed to have been the biggest thorn in the Proteas’ side: they also lost the bronze-medal playoff 58-42 to the hosts.
The Proteas could take even more home from Liverpool when their goal defence and vice-captain Karla Pretorius was named player of the tournament.
Coach Norma Plummer announced her retirement after the tournament, making way for her colleague Dorette Badenhorst to become the new head coach in September.
Despite the coaching change, the confidence in the Proteas camp soared. In October, they were tasked with conquering the continent when the African Netball Championship arrived in Cape Town. With no overseas-based players available for selection, Badenhorst had her first challenge as she had to delve into the local talent pool and explore the youth who had impressed at the Netball Championships in August.
This squad showed hunger and ruthlessness in the tournament, squashing any team that stepped between them and glory. They played plush netball too and the experienced players guided the debutants through tough games. They were unscathed throughout the championships and dethroned Uganda as African Champions.
Their final hurdle would be the high-school bully they just couldn’t avoid when England visited Cape Town for a Test series in November. Despite fervent performances, the Proteas narrowly lost the series by two games to one, which raised questions about their pedigree when competing with the world’s best.
But there is no argument that, when compared to the profile of the sport in England, Australia, New Zealand and Jamaica, the South African side have every reason to be proud of their year, which led them to be named the South African sports team of the year. They will be yearning for more of the same in 2020, but their main focus now will be building towards 2023, when they will have a home crowd to back them in their fight for a first World Cup trophy.