Sun, 12 Jul 2020

This week marks one year since the start of the Proteas' 2019 Cricket World Cup campaign in England.

It would prove to be South Africa's worst ever performance at the global showpiece.

Injuries, puzzling selections and an off-field saga involving AB de Villiers all contributed to a forgettable tournament for SA.

It is difficult to think of another South African national side hat has provided as much consistent disappointment as the Proteas at Cricket World Cups.

Some might argue that Bafana Bafana, too, have under-performed since their Afcon triumph in 1996, but given where South African football stacks up on the global stage, expectations are generally curbed.

The Proteas, though, have been one of the giants of international cricket ever since their return to the game post-isolation and they have entered several 50-over World Cups considered genuine title contenders.

Instead, after eight attempts, all the Proteas have to show for their efforts at cricket's major global showpiece is heartache.

22 off 1 in 1992, Allan Donald and Lance Klusener in 1999, the rain in Durban in 2003, Grant Elliott in 2015 ... South African cricket fans have been through it all.

This week marks the one-year anniversary of the start of the 2019 Cricket World Cup in England, where there was no heartache for the Proteas because they simply never got out of first gear.

Under the leadership of coach Ottis Gibson and captain Faf du Plessis, South Africa limped to a seventh-place finish at the tournament and never once threatened to make the playoffs.

It was disappointment after disappointment as selections, injuries and an off-field saga involving AB de Villiers all commanded more attention than the woeful cricket dished up by the men in green.

Gibson had been vocal on his views that fast bowling would separate South Africa from the rest in England, and his squad selections confirmed as much.

Dale Steyn, Kagiso Rabada, Anrich Nortje and Lungi Ngidi were all selected in the initial 15-man squad, but none would be fully fit at the tournament.

Nortje was ruled out with a hand injury before the Proteas had left South Africa, Steyn never played a game and was sent home with a shoulder injury, Ngidi stayed in England and got through just four matches with his fitness always in question while Rabada, South Africa's major weapon, was flat and overworked having also picked up a niggle at the IPL before the World Cup.

It left the Proteas' fast bowling stocks severely depleted and after having placed so much emphasis on that being their major strength, Gibson's men were on the back foot early and seemingly without any contingency plans.

Hashim Amla was rocked by a vicious Jofra Archer bumper in the tournament opener against England at The Oval as the Proteas lost by 104 runs, but the first major upset came in game two where Bangladesh, also at The Oval, floored the South Africans.

Du Plessis won the toss and, surprisingly, opted to field first as the Tigers carded 330/6. The Proteas fell 21 runs short and, already, their tournament was hanging in the balance.

In a revised format, only the top four sides on the 10-team log would progress to the semi-finals, and with the competition strong, the Proteas were not in a good way after their loss to Bangladesh.

It didn't get any better for them, either.

A six-wicket loss to India in Southampton followed before South Africa's fourth match of the tournament, against the West Indies also at the Rose Bowl, was washed out.

It left the Proteas winless after four matches and the semi-finals began to look highly unlikely.

The Proteas camp then had to deal with the news that superstar De Villiers had made himself available for selection on the eve of the squad announcement.

It came as a massive shock given that De Villiers had retired from international cricket and the decision was taken to go to England without him, but given how much the Proteas were struggling, it was a story that created a storm of media attention.

South Africa eventually bagged their first win of the tournament in a rain-affected Cardiff outing against minnows Afghanistan, but any optimism generated from that result was short-lived as Du Plessis and his charges slipped to another four-wicket loss to eventual finalists New Zealand in Birmingham.

That match, ultimately, is where even the most hopeful of South African fans would have given up on any possible run to the playoffs.

By the time the Proteas got to Lord's to take on Pakistan, there was only the slightest mathematical chance of a semi-final place, and even that was completely out of their hands.

When they were comfortably outplayed in that match, going down by 49 runs, their campaign was dead and buried.

With the pressure off, the Proteas secured back-to-back wins over Sri Lanka and Australia - where there was a fantastic century from Du Plessis - but it was far too little, far too late.

It was South Africa's worst ever performance at a Cricket World Cup and, in the aftermath, there was uncertainty surrounding the futures of Du Plessis and Gibson.

The likeable West Indian coach would not survive and was eventually let go by Cricket South Africa while Du Plessis took a step away from the game to contemplate his future.

From the time the squad was announced, nothing went right for South Africa at this World Cup. The injuries were unfortunate, but there were also a couple of important selections that did not pay off with Hashim Amla and JP Duminy, in particular, misfiring despite their experience.

There was no venom in the bowling department, the top order failed and, as the tournament progressed, the Proteas began to look increasingly like a side with nowhere to go.

When it was all over, they had won three and lost five with the 'no result' against the Windies seeing them finish seventh on the log, well short of the playoff positions.

South African cricket fans were used to heartbreaking moments at World Cups, but at England 2019, the Proteas were not even good enough to put themselves in a position where they were playing for anything.

It was, on all fronts, a tournament to forget from a South African point of view.

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