Proteas learn what every horse punter knows: there’s no such thing as a certainty

If cricket had stipendiary stewards they would have had an inquiry into the Proteas' 'reversal of form'.

This Sunday the Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad will host the 2023 Cricket World Cup final. Tournament favourites India will take on Australia.

Should this match-up come as a surprise? Yes and no.

No, because while every horse punter knows that there’s no such thing as a racing certainty I’m beginning to think that this doesn’t hold true in the race to win cricket’s World Cup.

Surely on all exposed form it’s well-nigh impossible that India won’t lift the trophy come Sunday evening.

The trophy itself is unmistakable. It features a central golden globe characterising a cricket ball and three silver columns representing the disciplines of batting, bowling and fielding.

That said, at a height of 60cm and weighing just over 11kg some blinkered racing fans might confuse it with my good friend Muzi Yeni.

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India look the business. For in truth, ever since Jasprit Bumrah bowled the first ball in their opening match in the Chepauk Stadium in Chennai, the host nation have appeared invincible.

Their Sunday opponents less so. To that end I am somewhat surprised Australia made the final.

The Aussie’s ‘stood in the stalls’ when the tournament gates opened, losing their opening two matches and finding themselves well off the early pace. In their third game they beat an out-of-sorts Sri Lanka and began to settle into their stride. Subsequently unbeaten, when they knocked South Africa out of the tournament in Thursday’s semi-final, they notched up their eighth victory on the bounce.

Don’t you hate it when history repeats itself. Australia’s gain is yet again South Africa’s loss.

I commend the Aussies for their run of form, and nobody can deny them that, but I honestly believe that they were ripe for the picking in this tournament.

They appeared vulnerable on more than one occasion in that string of eight wins. None more so than when Afghanistan had them at 91 for 7 before Glenn went bang, bang, and Maxwell’s Silver Hammer came down upon their head.

To use a phrase that the iconic boxing promotor Don King once coined on Super Saturday, one hates to revisit the sins of our “cricketeering past” but it would be remiss of me not to ask how the Proteas managed to get knocked out by a side who they had comprehensively out-punched and duly dispatched to the canvas by 134 runs in their clash during the pool stages.

South Africa batted first at the Ekana Stadium in Lucknow, only on that occasion Quinton de Kock and Temba Bavuma built an opening partnership of 108 with the former going on to be named Player of the Match for his 109 run total at more than a run a ball. In reply Australia had no answer to the Protea’s attack and were bowled out for a paltry 177.

After that defeat the five-time winners of the Cricket World Cup, who four days earlier had lost their opening game to India by six wickets, looked a pale shadow of their pedigreed selves. With batting struggling to take flight and bowling encountering unexpected turbulence, their team cabin pressure was dropping and it appeared a matter of time before the oxygen masks would fall.

In short they looked pig-sick. Never mind the Baggy Green worn by their Test cricketers, the players looked green around the gills and ready to fill the proverbial bag.

With regard to aptitude and attitude in that Lucknow pool-game, South Africa and Australia looked polar opposites. There was only one team that appeared in dire need of ‘luck now’ and it wasn’t the Proteas.

So what happened? What changed?

The tournament trajectory of both teams was soon to perform an about-turn. The team from down-under went north and ultimately the Proteas went south. If the sport of cricket had stipendiary stewards they would have had an inquiry into the “reversal of form”.

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The National Horse Racing Authority of Southern Africa has a specific rule that addresses inconsistent running. Ruler 62.3.1 states that The TRAINER of a HORSE shall ensure that such HORSE does not run in an inconsistent manner (also referred to as “reversal of form” or “in and out running”). Where inconsistent running has or may have occurred, an investigation into such matter may be held.

Perhaps it runs deeper than just the pendulum of form. Perhaps, buoyed by the Boks, our expectations were unrealistic. Perhaps some South Africans thought the Proteas would follow the rugby lead and beat Australia by one run and go on to beat India by one run on Sunday.

Whatever it was that lead to their fifth demise in a Cricket World Cup semi-final, one thing is for certain.
There will be no shortage of post mortem examinations designed to determine the cause of our latest “death by semi-final”.

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