World Cup: The yearning is burning, the ache isn’t fake
There’s one way, and only one way, to draw the sting of 1999 in Edgbaston: win the damn tournament already
You know how it is. You haven’t seen each other for yonks. The yearning is burning. The ache isn’t fake. All you want is each other. When do you want it? Now.
Then you step off the plane, heart thumping, mind racing, blood roaring. The rest happens out of sight, which is just as well, and the next day the neighbours say: “There was all sorts of romancing and hugging and people connecting with each other going on upstairs last night.”
Except that wasn’t a neighbour. It was Ottis Gibson talking to reporters in Cape Town about his World Cup squad uniting more than seven weeks after SA had played their last match. Little wonder things were going bump in the night at their hotel on Tuesday.
“To have everybody back is awesome”, Gibson said, pointing particularly at “the guys who played in the IPL final”.
They are Faf du Plessis, Quinton de Kock and Imran Tahir: all safely returned from getting the job done for Chennai Super Kings and Mumbai Indians in the Indian Premier League final in Hyderabad on Sunday.
Not so Kagiso Rabada and Dale Steyn, who left the tournament early with back and shoulder injuries.
And the clock won’t stop ticking towards the opening match of the World Cup between England and, yes, SA at the Oval on May 30.
“There’s an issue with ‘KG’ and there was an issue with Dale, but we feel that those guys are on track,” Gibson said. “We feel they are going to both make full recoveries and be able to take their place at the World Cup.”
Hashim Amla is busy with a different kind of rehab. His journey back from fragile form and the emotional attention devoted to his seriously ill father meant opting out of the Cobras’ T20 schedule last month in favour of working with Dale Benkenstein, SA’s batting coach.
“‘Hash’ just wanted to get away from the T20 bubble of trying to hit every ball,” Gibson said. “He felt that was hampering his preparation for playing in England, where he’s got a very good record.
“He’s been working on his technical stuff with ‘Benky’ around batting in England and facing the new ball in England. We felt it was important to give him the space to do that. T20 is different. England is different. Batsmen who try to score off every ball there tend to give their wicket away.”
Du Plessis. De Kock. Tahir. Rabada. Steyn. Amla. If SA’s kite is going to fly at this World Cup they are going to need those players to be who they know them to be and not a lot less.
It can’t hurt their cause that, the absent Amla apart, all of the others had a solid IPL. Tahir was the top wicket-taker; De Kock was third among the run-scorers; Du Plessis scored more runs in fewer innings than Ajinkya Rahane, Suresh Raina and Kieron Pollard; Rabada finished one wicket behind Tahir despite bowling 17.2 fewer overs; and Steyn immediately revitalised Royal Challengers Bangalore’s attack.
“You’ve got guys going there with confidence, which is what you need,” Gibson said.
SA have gone to previous World Cups with too much confidence for their own good, and paid high prices for that flaw. This time a certain realism has taken hold, an acknowledgment that this team aren’t as strong as those who have been there and done that before them. Might this serve them well?
“What’s gone in the past is gone,” Gibson said. “We’re not taking the past with us to this World Cup. It’s a new adventure for us.”
That’s all very well for Gibson to say, but he needs to understand that once he and his players emerge from the cocoon of the dressing room they no longer set the parameters of a conversation that will veer towards, for instance, what happened at Edgbaston in 1999 – when SA had three balls to score one run to reach the final, and choked.
They kissed their sisters, who had bad breath: the tie put Australia in the final instead.
Their opponents won’t flinch to remind them of all that. Neither will the press.
“We’ve decided we’re not going to speak about it,” Gibson said. “From me it might be a ‘no comment’. I’ve never been in a team where that’s happened. When we win off the last ball you don’t say anything about the opposition, but when we lose off the last ball then it’s about that thing that’s happened. Youngsters [in SA’s squad] have never been in that position before, so why ask them about it?”
Gibson is right: SA don’t get the credit they deserve when they do win under pressure. But he’s also wrong. There’s no point pretending 1999 no longer matters. All that will accomplish is to prompt opponents and the press to make it matter even more.
There’s one way, and only one way, to draw the sting: win the damn tournament already.
The yearning is burning. The ache isn’t fake.