A few lessons from South Africa's defeat

Rain came down just when the Proteas believed that they had got into a position to launch the final assault on the target that the Lankans had set them.


Lance Klusener and Mark Boucher of South Africa walk off the pitch as rain stops play during their match against Sri Lanka in Durban. Boucher was wrongly told that 229 runs would be enough to win the crunch game against Sri Lanka. Later it was revealed that the match had ended in a tie. This led to the host making an exit in the first-round itself.-Pic. REUTERS

IT was rain that left the door open for South Africa, when the West Indies' match against Bangladesh was called off. The bad weather effectively ruled the West Indies out of the tournament, but gave South Africa the opportunity to sneak in, if they could beat Sri Lanka in their final game.

Rain came down just when the Proteas believed that they had got into a position to launch the final assault on the target that the Lankans had set them. Some terrible miscalculation and thereby faulty instructions sent to the batsmen at the crease meant that the game was tied once the umpires ruled out any chance of restarting the match.

The instructions were that 229 runs were needed to win the game without losing further wickets. So, after hitting a six off the penultimate delivery from Muttiah Muralitharan, the batsman, Mark Boucher, patted the last ball to the fielder instead of pushing it for a single. He believed that the six he had hit off the previous delivery was good enough to win the game for his team, but it wasn't so.

One of the first things I learnt when I started the game was to ensure that I got more than a few runs after a century. This was purely because those who were carrying the scores in the book were either your teammates, who were in the reserves, or amateurs who could well have got mixed up and added the runs to your score when it should have been entered in the byes or leg-byes column or even to the player batting with you then. So if you did get out exactly on 100, as per the scoreboard, and later if the umpires checked and corrected the scores then you could well be short of that figure. So don't take chances, but score a few more was what I learnt. In fact, there have been a few instances where a batsman had raised his bat to acknowledge the applause for a century, only to find later that the scoreboard was wrong and he had fallen short of the three-figure mark.

Of course, if a batsman is in the habit of counting his runs then he will know exactly how many he has got, but I never did that nor did I look at the scoreboard and there were occasions when the applause took me by surprise since I wasn't aware that I had reached the milestone. If Boucher had only scored that one run instead of patting the ball back, then South Africa would have qualified for the Super Six and not be shedding tears and lamenting their luck.

Once again the host country will not win the World Cup, probably one should say the major hosting country as the other two joint hosts, Zimbabwe and Kenya, have entered the Super Six and if they show the same tenacity and application, may well go even further.

But who would have thought, at the beginning of the tournament, that South Africa would be eliminated in the first round itself. But surely, they played ordinary cricket, especially when bowling against the stronger teams like New Zealand and West Indies. Having lost these games and not having beaten the other strong team, Sri Lanka, in this Group, it would have been a travesty of justice if they had gone through, so they really can't complain about their luck. Instead, they should be looking at their campaign and see how it was bound to fail as soon as a few players made public declarations that they would dedicate the World Cup to their former captain, the disgraced Hansie Cronje. Whatever their personal relationship and close friendship with their late captain, they invited fate by involving his name, and the team suffered. During the tournament, the public statements, made by one or two players that their skipper Shaun Pollock has a lot to learn, showed that they were not fully behind him. While we in the sub-continent tend to believe that conspiracy is part of our cricketing culture, one had to be in South Africa to realise the amount of suspicion some players had over the captain. But ultimately, it is the team that suffered.

The Man of the Tournament in England, in 1999, Lance Klusener was found wanting in the basic finer points of the game. In the opener against the West Indies, he stubbornly stood his ground, after holing out, and refused to cross over so that Boje who had a partnership with him could have got the strike in that last over. By doing so, the new batsman in Makhaya Ntini, no great shakes with the bat, had to take the strike instead of the well-set Nicky Boje. The result could well have been different, but for that elementary error by Klusener. Then in the game against Sri Lanka, he, as a local Kwazulu Natal player, should have know that rain was imminent, yet he chose to pat back deliveries. The world knows what a capable batsman Klusener is. He can destroy any bowler. Those few dot balls cost the South Africans dearly though, of course that was not the only reason they didn't win the game. Their campaign was doomed the moment some of their players decided to dedicate the tournament to a person who had played foul with not just South African cricket but international cricket. It created dissensions within the team and the men who dedicated the event to their late disgraced ex-captain getting divine comeuppance in the form of injury and loss of performance. To the followers of the game in the sub-continent that thrive on `tales' of dissension and groupism in the teams, this must have been music to their ears, to know that the malaise is not confined only to their teams.

There is likely to be an enquiry, by the administrators, into the whole World Cup campaign that flopped so badly for the host team. Like all enquiries this too will be eyewash since the world will have moved on by the time the report is out. This will have little interest to the average fan.

Once again the major host has failed in the championship and the jinx for the host team continues.