Rassie van der Dussen was ten-years-old, Andile Phehlukwayo was just three and Gerald Coetzee was not even born when South Africa featured in that classic World Cup semifinal against Australia in 1999.
None of them, obviously, have any memories of that tied game when South Africa suffered the biggest heartbreak, while Australia progressed to the final and eventually won the tournament.
But come November 16 and all three of them will be part of South Africa’s yet another semifinal with the Aussies - this time at the iconic Eden Gardens in Kolkata, and the current crop of players are looking forward to it. “The whole chat around our group has been, ‘you know what, on the 19th of November we will be where we need to be, whether it’s lifting the trophy or not. It’s fine, whatever happens will happen.’ We will look to play the way we want to play and do what we want to do,” says van der Dussen.
So far in the tournament, the middle-order batter has amassed 442 runs and has stepped up in crunch times. In a rather dead-rubber against Afghanistan on Friday, he stood firm even as wickets tumbled and guided the team home with an unbeaten 76 off 95 deliveries.
While van der Dussen understands that the pressure will mount up ahead of a high-voltage game, he wants to live in the present and keep things simple. “At the end of the day, I think that the time we’ve had together the last 8 to 12 weeks with the squad will go down as probably some of the best team environments and times I’ve had in my career…”
“...And those memories are special already. So, whether we win or not, I don’t think - that’s not up to us really. Whatever will happen will happen, but we’ll definitely go away from here with fond memories…” he says.
South Africa has had a great run in the tournament - barring two defeats against India and The Netherlands - and the hopes are high from the well-balanced unit to get the monkey off the back.
“What happened in the past doesn’t affect us now. That’s the game of cricket and we are going to get there and ensure it’s a good game. Whoever wins on that day, wins - there’s no dishonour in losing as long as we come to play,” says Coetzee.
Last week, the team suffered a humiliating defeat against India at Eden Gardens and when it returns to the same venue for the marquee game, it would obviously be a challenge to cut out the noise and focus on the job in hand. The team has had bonding sessions with a game of footie and according to Coetzee, the defeat against India has been a learning experience. “There are obviously things that we did wrong. They played a good game and we played bad. That’s okay. We are going to have bad games now and then. We learned a lot of lessons against The Netherlands, which helped us in the tournament. We learned a lesson from the game against India. We take what we can and we just improve,” Coetzee, who claimed 18 wickets in the league stage, adds.
For Phehlukwayo, the semifinal will be all about preparation and adjusting to the conditions. “We have played Australia a couple of times before the series. We played them in the World Cup as well. We are a good team and so are they. So, whoever plays the best cricket and who comes on on that day will win. But we are not looking too ahead,” he says, adding: “It’s about the preparation and who plays the conditions the best on the day…”
Back in 1999, South Africa needed one run to win off the final three deliveries, with just one wicket in hand. Lance Klusener, who was at the strike, tried to play the fourth delivery of the final over towards long-on and attempted a single. However, a mix-up between him and Allan Donald, led to the latter losing his wicket. As jubilant Aussies celebrated the momentous feat, the Proteas were shattered.
They had a chance to turn things around in 2007 when the two teams met again in the second semifinal, but a batting disaster once again led to Proteas’ meek surrender.
But sixteen years later, as South Africa again faces Australia in a 50-over World Cup knockout, the current crop hopes to execute its plans and back its skills.
For them, it’s about putting up a fight - irrespective of the result.
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