South Africa’s history at the Cricket World Cup is littered with a cruel mix of shocking performances and astoundingly poor luck.
However, between a fast bowler infamously dropping his bat, a silly mathematical blunder and multiple frustrating ties, perhaps no previous edition of the quadrennial showpiece has left a more bitter taste in the mouths of local fans than that caused by the rain which fell on Sydney Cricket Ground in 1992.
Needing 22 runs off 13 balls in their semifinal against England, the Proteas returned from a brief rain delay to face the impossible target of 22 runs from just one delivery.
Looking back, star top-order batsman Peter Kirsten recalls the frustration caused by the adjustment, which created such controversy that it ultimately resulted in a revamping of the system used to calculate targets when overs are reduced.
Following the uncertainty which had surrounded their participation in the tournament, Kirsten remembers dealing with a concoction of emotions.
“Some things can be controlled, but 22 runs off one ball was crazy, so you saw grown men crying,” Kirsten said this week, on the sidelines of the Cricket World Cup in England. “But for me personally, I was happy that we had been invited to play in our first World Cup.”
With South Africa making their debut after returning from a lengthy isolation period, Kirsten was initially stunned to have been left out of the World Cup squad, after displaying both loyalty and good form.
While some of his countrymen had opted to pursue international careers in foreign countries due to sanctions, Kirsten stayed at home, playing a key role in ensuring the quality of the domestic game remained at a sufficiently high standard for the national team to be competitive upon readmission.
He was rewarded in November 1991 when he made his international debut at the age of 36, turning out in a historic three-match ODI series against India.
Despite contributing an unbeaten 86 in the final match in New Delhi, however, Kirsten was omitted from a 30-member provisional squad for the following year’s showpiece in Australia, along with fellow veterans Clive Rice and Jimmy Cook.
“Some of us had played domestic cricket in South Africa for a long time and kept it going, and I wasn’t the only one who was left out despite being in good form, so that was a shock,” Kirsten, now 64, recalls.
In a surprise twist, he was later included in the final 14-man squad for the World Cup, and he went on to rack up 410 runs in eight matches at an average of 68.80, finishing as the third-highest scorer at the tournament.
And while their campaign ended in a frustrating defeat, the firm sense of respect Kirsten had developed for the sport after being introduced to the game by his father Noel at the age of eight, was evident on that March day in 1992 when the SA team’s hopes of reaching the final were drowned by a faulty system.
In front of a crowd of 44 000 spectators, Kirsten suggested they do a lap of honour around the oval.
“That’s one of the happy memories I’ve got from the tournament,” says Kirsten, whose half-brother Gary also went on to play for the Proteas, and later coached India to a World Cup title.
“Thinking back, it was as if it was too soon for us to reach the final. Like there was some sort of divine intervention.
“I’m just grateful to have had an opportunity to play for South Africa at a late age.”
With his latest successors struggling to put up a fight at this month’s World Cup in England, Kirsten blamed poor squad selection.
By picking players who were not at their best, he believed they had fallen short before the first ball was delivered at the global spectacle.
“When I was selected in 1992 I was fit and in very good form, but they have passengers in this squad,” says Kirsten, who has worked as a coach for the last two decades.
“I think they’ve gone awry by selecting unfit players, like Hashim Amla and Dale Steyn, and it seems there is no plan for the bowling unit.
“It has been very disappointing to see the results.”
Should issues with regards to selection and coaching be addressed, however, Kirsten remains confident about the future of the sport.
With current players being given international opportunities in the early stages of their careers – a chance he never got – Kirsten believes they can raise the standard and eventually end their World Cup bogey by lifting the elusive trophy.
“South Africa is blessed with young talent, and I don’t think they’re using coaching resources effectively in SA, but I’m hopeful that South African cricket will be able to perform on the world stage.”