Is this time for Africa: How the Proteas men played big moments perfectly to reach the final

South Africa have won all their games on their way to the summit clash, but bigger challenge awaits
South African players sing their national anthem ahead of the men's T20 World Cup semifinal cricket match against Afghanistan.
South African players sing their national anthem ahead of the men's T20 World Cup semifinal cricket match against Afghanistan. Photo | AP

CHENNAI: South Africa had overpowered Afghanistan to enter their first-ever Men’s T20 World Cup final on Wednesday. They had made history and were all set to fly from Trinidad and Tobago to Barbados, where they will face India in the summit clash.

However, something happened. Just when they were about to take off, the flight halted at the airport because a small private plane had issues while landing at the Grantley Adams airport in Barbados according to multiple reports. As a result, the airport was closed for inspections by the Civil Aviation Authority and the Barbados Police Service.

"It appeared that the landing gear of the private aircraft did not deploy, but it is currently on the runway at GAIA [Grantley Adams International Airport] safely," Sharleen Brown, Corporate Communication Specialist with GAIA, reportedly said in a statement.

Back in Trinidad, South Africa’s flight was delayed for almost six hours before eventually leaving again.

If there ever was an incident that sums up the kind of campaign South Africa have had to the final, this was it. Unbeaten through the league and Super 8s and yet had their share of struggle in almost every game. They lost early wickets against Sri Lanka, had a scare against Netherlands, sealed a four-run win versus Bangladesh and a one-run victory against Nepal.

The Super 8s wasn’t an easy road either. Despite winning every game until that point, a loss against the West Indies would have shut the door for them. Even in that game, South Africa somehow managed to claw their way back to get across the line. It was only in the semifinal against Afghanistan, they had a comprehensive win.

“It's been just about the perfect campaign without being the perfect campaign,” former South Africa coach Russell Domingo tells this daily. “I mean, they haven't always played at their best, but most importantly, they have found a way to win and in World Cups, that's the most important thing. So it's been an amazing campaign thus far and a campaign that they can look back at and be very proud of because they managed to win the tight games and the close contests and that's really a good thing when you come to knockouts.”

Now, getting across the line in crunch matches of ICC events is not something South Africa are known for, at least in the past couple of decades. Since the turn of the millennium, Proteas men have lost five semifinals and a quarterfinal across formats. It did not help their cause that they were unlucky and some marginal things went against them. So much so that it had become a thing when it comes to South Africa and World Cups.

This year, however, is not the same. Despite not necessarily dominating the proceedings throughout their campaign, the Aiden Markram-led side persisted when put under pressure and survived every single time. And they have done so by complementing each other when things are not working for a particular player. “I think Ottneil Baartman went for 20 runs in an over against England. The next over, Kagiso Rabada maybe went for three or four. So there's been really a combined effort by the entire bowling attack where if somebody struggled on the day, the rest of the attack have stepped up. They have not played perfect cricket but they have played the big moments perfectly. So that's a big thing,” says Domingo.

Although they only have one hand on the trophy, South Africa have reached the final in itself has had a significant impact back home. Should they go all the way, it will not just have a cultural impact but also financial ramifications, something Cricket South Africa will take with both hands. “I mean, just financially, it will be a big thing happening in cricket. You get sponsors back involved, you need to get back in the game. You need to get people believing in the Proteas again. So it's a massive game for us, not just for the Proteas on Saturday, but for South Africans in general because hopefully the support and the following after a couple of tough years will come standing back,” says Domingo.

For Markarm and his team to achieve that, they might not want to go through the tedious rollercoaster as they have in every game so far. A clinical performance is essential against India. Domingo, however, believes it doesn’t matter how they get there, and all that matters now is getting over the line.

“I don't think they care. They don't care how they get over the line. I just think it is the desperation to get over the line. It is a great opportunity for South Africa,” Domingo signed off.

Indeed. Just like how they reached Barbados despite all the hurdles that came their way, all Markram and South Africa would want on Saturday is to get across the line.

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