South Africa in ODI World Cup Knockouts

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South Africa’s ODI World Cup campaign ended in disappointment, yet again, as five-time world champions Australia defeated them by three wickets at the Eden Gardens in the second semi-final of the 2023 World Cup.

The Proteas had started this World Cup brilliantly to finish second, one place ahead of Australia, in the points table. Having a superior net run rate while coming into the knockout game surely kept them as the favourites, but their history in World Cup knockouts never agreed with mass perception.

South Africa had previously reached World Cup knockouts on seven occasions, failing to reach the final on every single instance. Their World Cup campaigns have ended in the quarter-finals twice and at the semis five times.

South Africa in ODI World Cup Knockouts: All Results

World Cup EditionHost CountrySouth Africa Knockout Result
1992Australia & New ZealandLost in Semi-final
1996India, Pakistan & Sri LankaLost in Quarter-final
1999England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, NetherlandsLost in Semi-final
2007West IndiesLost in Semi-final
2011India, Sri Lanka & BangladeshLost in Quarter-final
2015Australia & New ZealandLost in Semi-final
2023IndiaLost in Semi-final

Rain curtailed semi-final ousts South Africa: 1992 World Cup

With the conditions of Australia and New Zealand familiar, South Africa qualified for the semi-finals by winning five of their eight league-stage matches. They beat co-hosts Australia, West Indies, Pakistan, Zimbabwe and India to qualify with 10 points and set up a semi-final clash with England.

The Proteas chose to field first and limited England to 252/6 in a rain-curtailed game. With an easily chaseable target, South Africa were smoothly romping to the target before rain interrupted again and the team needed 22 runs off 13 balls. Quite unbelievably, the match officials used the archaic Most Productive Overs method to gauge the situation and handed South Africa a reduced target of 21 runs off just 1 ball.

The Duckworth/Lewis method that was introduced in 2006, would have first given South Africa a target of 273 runs in 45 overs, before reducing it to 257 in 43 overs.

South Africa fall to Brian Lara’s masterclass: 1996 World Cup

The World Cup had moved to the sub-continent for the second time in World Cup history and the format had seen a slight twist as well. The league and knockout stage was replaced by group stages, where South Africa were clubbed with Pakistan, New Zealand, England, UAE and the Netherlands. The Proteas defeated all the teams to qualify for the quarter-finals as table toppers.

South were up against West Indies in the quarters and they would bat second again. A 111-run masterclass by Brian Lara saw the Caribbeans post a competitive target of 265 runs and there was no rain forecast to disrupt South Africa’s performance. However, a four-fer by Roger Harper and a three-wicket haul by Jimmy Adams wrapped up the Proteas for 245 runs.

South Africa lose by the barest of margin: 1999 World Cup

The World Cup was getting hosted by as many as five nations this time – England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, Netherlands – with England getting hosting rights for the first time since hosting three consecutive World Cups in 1975, 1979 and 1983. South Africa would again top their group stage by beating India, England, Sri Lanka and Kenya with their only defeat coming against Zimbabwe.

South Africa would beat Pakistan, New Zealand and Australia to qualify from the Super 6 stage and set up a semi-final clash against Australia. However, destiny would play a cruel game on the Proteas as they would lose to Australia most stunningly. Needing just one run to win in the last three balls with one wicket in hand, Allan Donald would get run out in one of the most iconic World Cup moments. Both teams had ended on 213 runs before Australia qualified by a better Super Six stage finish.

Australia outclass South Africa: 2007 World Cup

The 1999 World Cup had broken South Africa, so much so that they would fail to qualify from the group stages in their backyard. It took them eight years to get back on the horse as they ran a stronger race in the 2007 World Cup in South Africa. They would qualify for the Super 8 stage from second place after beating the Netherlands and Scotland, before putting up a decent display against Sri Lanka, Ireland, West Indies and England to reach the semis.

Unfortunately, the third-placed South Africans were pitted against the mighty defending champions Australia, who were chasing their third-consecutive World Cup title. While this was a great chance to avenge their 1999 World Cup finish, the Proteas remained no competition against Ricky Ponting’s star-studded side. An out-of-touch South Africa were bowled out for 149 runs before Australia chased it down within 32 overs.

Star-studded South Africa side falter: 2011 World Cup

By 2011, South Africa was again a strong side under Graeme Smith’s leadership with names like Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers, Faf du Plessis, Morne Morkel and Dale Steyn firing on all cylinders. The Proteas started similarly, winning their matches against West Indies, Netherlands, hosts India, Ireland and Bangladesh to reach the quarter-finals yet again.

Before their knockout clash against New Zealand, South Africa had lost just once in six games. New Zealand, on the other hand, had lost twice and were coming to the match as the second favourites. But, nerves played a part again and South Africa failed to chase a paltry total of 222 runs as New Zealand’s Jacob Oram took four wickets alongside Nathan McCullum’s three-wicket haul to win by 49 runs.

Elliot’s heroics keep South Africa out of reach: 2015 World Cup

After their World Cup-winning streak was finally broken by India in 2011, Australia were looking to get back to winning ways with the 2015 edition being held in their backyard. South Africa was flying high under new captain AB de Villiers, whose aggressive ways were getting results for the team. South Africa, however, was far from dominant in the tournament losing to India and Pakistan in the group-stage games. What changed this time, however, was their victory against Sri Lanka in the quarter-final, which was the Proteas’ first-ever World Cup knockout match win.

The team looked different this time with a rare confidence in the side in crunch situations. Batting first, South Africa gave New Zealand a tricky target of 282 runs, which was defendable given the options the Proteas had, like Steyn, Morkel, Vernon Philander, Imran Tahir and more. However, a blistering start by Kiwi captain Brendon McCullum saw New Zealand get a great start before rain interrupted to complicate things. Eventually, New Zealand had to chase 299 runs in the new DLS method and Grant Elliot played the innings of his life and scored 12 off the last over to eliminate South Africa yet again.

Prolific South Africa slump to shock defeat: 2023 World Cup

Despite not being counted among the stronger ODI sides in world cricket, South Africa was the dark horse of the 2023 World Cup held in India. They started their campaign with mammoth 102-run and 134-run victories against Sri Lanka and Australia, respectively, before following a surprise loss to the Netherlands with 229-run and 149-run wins against defending champions England and Bangladesh. They would even beat the likes of New Zealand, Pakistan and Afghanistan to book a place in the semis.

With the form the team was in, nothing should have gone wrong for South Africa in the knockouts this time. Australia had struggled their way to the semis, winning matches quite unconvincingly, and were not the favourites. But, South Africa wasn’t meant for summit clashes and as the match started, in-from players like Quinton de Kock, Rassie van der Dussen and Aiden Markram all faltered to reduce the side to 22/3. Though David Miller’s century set up a target of 212 runs, it was never going to trouble Australia who chased it down with three wickets remaining.

Concluding Thoughts

Some teams have been regularly pegged as title contenders but never lived up to the expectations. But, it’s not a forever curse as proven by England after they won the ODI World Cup for the first time in 44 years in 2019. South Africa has never been short of talent and with an experienced captain at the helm, they are likely to lift the coveted trophy in the coming years.

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