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South Africa Finally Bury Klusener Complex

Published: 21st March 2015 01:28 PM  |   Last Updated: 21st March 2015 03:30 PM   |  A+A-

LONDON: On Thursday morning, one of the great sporting jinxes was lifted. A drought that ranks up there with English football's half-century of hurt. A condition we might refer to as "the Klusener Complex".

Mind-boggling as it seems, South Africa's performance in cricket World Cups has been even worse than England's. Until Thursday, their USP (unique shaming point) was their failure to win a single knockout match in the tournament. Ever.

If South Africa's rugby team are named after the Springbok, an antelope with razor-sharp half-metre horns, their cricket team are the Proteas, in reference to the plant more commonly known as the sugarbush. And when it comes to World Cups, they have certainly been delicate flowers.

Admittedly, they missed the first four instalments because of isolation. Even now, though, the best they have managed was the unforgettable tied semi-final at Edgbaston in 1999 - still surely the greatest one-day international - in which Lance Klusener needed one run to win off four balls, and could not get it.

This is not the only hard-luck story on the register. England fans still chortle about the appalling injustice of 1992, when a downpour in the Sydney semi-final led to a hare-brained recalculation: 22 runs from 13 balls became 22 runs from one.

And even once the Duckworth-Lewis method had been introduced, South Africa managed to create their own mathematical mayhem while hosting the tournament in 2003. As rain swept in once again, Mark Boucher misunderstood the "target score" column on the crib sheet, and patted the final ball away for a dot when a single was needed. Another tie, another exit: midsummer madness indeed.

Klusener's mind-melt remains the gold standard, however; the ultimate embodiment of South Africa's knack for punching below their weight. Yes, the man they called "Zulu" had muscles popping out in all directions, and swung his bat as if bent on reducing a tower block to rubble. But when Damien Fleming sent down a perfect yorker (the fourth ball in a final over that had previously gone 4, 4, 0), Klusener bottom-edged it to mid-off and hared down the pitch in search of the winning run.

Unfortunately, last man Allan Donald was facing the wrong way and did not hear Klusener's call. Time slowed to a standstill as Donald finally turned - you could almost see the light bulb go on above his head - and set off at least three seconds too late. You did not have to be South African to be reminded of those dreams where your feet are stuck in treacle.

Jitters can be contagious and all the team's great names have since been afflicted by World Cup yips. Shaun Pollock was complicit in the D-L fiasco of 2003. Jacques Kallis, usually the steadiest of heads, took a wild yahoo at Glenn McGrath in the 2007 semi-final. After his elimination at the hands of New Zealand in 2011, a hollow-eyed Graeme Smith resigned the captaincy with the words: "I cannot explain it."

So, what happened on Thursday? Well, the omens were bleak when Sri Lanka won the toss and batted. Every one of South Africa's previous World Cup exits had come on a run chase.

But their bowlers - notably imported leg-spinner Imran Tahir - performed so well that Sri Lanka could muster only 133 all out, and there was no pressure on the batsmen as they romped to a nine-wicket win.

Despite the presence of proven performers such as Dale Steyn and Hashim Amla, this still feels like a new-look team, under the swashbuckling leadership of AB de Villiers. As they look forward to Tuesday's semi-final against New Zealand or the West Indies, there is a sense that South Africa could be on the verge of a breakthrough moment.

Even so, the fans back home have yet to be convinced. "They've become the cricketing equivalent of Arsenal," said Altus Momberg, a Johannesburg-based cricket writer. "They can win lots of games, but one defeat like the one against India in the group phase and everyone jumps on them and calls them chokers. They will have to win the World Cup to change that."



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