SA cricket: heartbreak, innovation

20 May 2004

If you were watching any of the previous four cricket World Cups, and you had any sympathy, you might have spared some for South Africa’s cricket team.

In 1992 the team lost in the semi-finals when a less-than-well-thought-out rain rule saw their target increase from 22 off 13 balls to 22 off one ball when rain fell against England in the last four.

In 1996 South Africa crushed all before them before a brilliant solo effort from Brian Lara helped the West Indies to a narrow win in the quarterfinals. With the Proteas’ loss in mind, a new system was introduced in 1999 to prevent a single win meaning the end of the road for a team; after all, South Africa were possibly the best side at the World Cup.

In 1999 there was greater heartbreak for South Africa. In one of the greatest one-day internationals ever, South Africa and Australia played to an incredible tie in the semi-finals. The Aussies went through to the title decider because they had beaten Hansie Cronje’s side earlier in the tournament – by five wickets with only two balls to spare. In the final they smashed Pakistan by eight wickets.

And in 2003, on home soil, South Africa lost out again in the most unbelievable manner. Facing Sri Lanka in pool play, with a place in the Super Sixes on the line, the Proteas were in position to secure victory when rain started to fall. A miscalculation on the South African team’s part meant they tied Sri Lanka on the Duckworth/Lewis method. One more run would have done the trick – South Africa’s World Cup bogey had returned with a vengeance.

World greats
Some of the world’s finest players have represented South Africa. Sir Donald Bradman regarded Barry Richards as the greatest opening batsman he ever saw. Graeme Pollock was possibly the greatest left-handed batsman of all time.

Mike Procter could stake a claim to being one of the greatest all-rounders ever. Jacques Kallis could make an assault on that title before his career is over. Shaun Pollock is another brilliant all rounder. Allan Donald was a devastating opening bowler. Jonty Rhodes was possibly the greatest fielder of all time.

Sparking innovation
South Africa has also played an important role in bringing innovation to world cricket.

If you thought googly was something that came to cricket from the Asian nations, where spin bowling is ideally suited to their dry pitches, you are wrong. It was first brought to the fore by Englishman “Bosey” Bosenquet, but it was South Africa that really entrenched it.

In 1905/6, when SA played England at home in a five-match series, South Africa included four googly bowlers: Reggie Schwarz (who had learnt the delivery from Bosenquet at Middlesex), Aubrey Faulkner, Ernie Vogler and Gordon White. The result was a comprehensive 4-1 series victory for the South Africans, a brilliant turnaround after eight losses in succession to the English.

The use of cameras to determine run out and stumped decisions was also pioneered in South Africa. Today they play a vital role in helping umpires make accurate decisions.

And the national one-day team under coach Bob Woolmer brought innovative shot-making to the international game – shots like the reverse-sweep and the slog-sweep. It also brought innovative fielding ideas, like catching throw-ins in front of the stumps, and not behind them, to speed up the action in order to bring about run outs.

Jonty Rhodes helped lift fielding to new heights. Suddenly greater emphasis was placed on that aspect of the game, and spectators around that world benefited as cricket became a more dynamic game.

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