There’s consensus that South Africa’s World Cup campaign in 1992, the team’s first, was destined to warm the hearts of the cricketing world from the moment they stunningly thrashed Australia by nine wickets in their first match.
But that’s erring a bit on the romantic side, for it all could’ve gone pear shaped had it not been for one of the spells of the tournament from Meyrick Pringle.
Kepler Wessels’ men had come off two chastening defeats after the Aussie triumph, losing to tournament frontrunners New Zealand by seven wickets, while also slumping to a surprising three-wicket loss to Sri Lanka.
Lying in wait was a power packed West Indian outfit that still featured names like Brian Lara, Desmond Haynes, Malcolm Marshall and Curtly Ambrose.
The South Africans managed a solid if unspectacular 200/8 but a sterling effort with the ball was required.
Pringle duly provided it.
“I was the one member of the attack in the game against Australia that didn’t bowl well,” recalled the former Eastern and Western Province stalwart, who made his international debut in that match.
“My figures (0/52) were very expensive and I was consequently left out for the matches against New Zealand and Sri Lanka. I knew I had to take my chance when I was included for the West Indian game.”
He didn’t have it all his way initially.
“My first over was bowled to Brian Lara and he hit me for two boundaries. I dismissed him, however, with my fifth delivery and from there on I didn’t look back.”
In a sequence of 11 deliveries, Pringle snaffled Lara, Richie Richardson, Carl Hooper and Keith Arthurton in a blistering burst that left the Islanders in tatters at 19/4, a position from which they didn’t recover.
“It was great conditions to bowl in and I was ecstatic that I could make use of them. Fortunately, it also ensured my spot for the rest of the tournament,” Pringle said.
While he can be credited with providing the impetus for getting the South Africans journey back on track, Pringle was keen to emphasise the momentum the opening win provided.
“Yeah, it was nice to play a role in getting us up and running again but the Australian game gave us a lot of confidence.
“We were an unknown quantity, no-one had much material of us to work on. We went into the game without any expectations, because we considered ourselves massive underdogs. Beating the Aussies was incredible as they went into the tournament as favourites,” the swing bowler, considered one of South Africa’s greatest exponents, explained.
He added: “The win was so comprehensive. That was were we realised we can take this tournament by storm.”
Pringle also provided one of the most amusing, though unwitting, acts of the tournament.
“At the beginning of each week we needed to collect our weekly allowances from team management. I was standing in a hotel lift and saw people running to jump in. I kept the doors open but amazingly, I dropped my envelope right in the gap between the room floor and elevator floor,” he chuckled.
“The fire brigade and lift maintenance had to be called in to retrieve my cheque, a huge rescue operation for an envelope. It was really funny. We had a good laugh about it.”
Despite admirably reaching the last four, South Africa’s campaign will always be remembered for the infamous “22 off one ball”-incident that Pringle described as “heartbreaking”.
“The worst about that debacle was that it actually rained a lot harder during the England innings than while we were batting. I think the guys like Graham Gooch and Allan Lamb, with their South African connections, just couldn’t stand losing to us and tried everything to get us off the field.”
Still, the new boys of world cricket had announced themselves in a fitting way that went a long way in establishing them as a powerhouse.
“It was an incredible response we received from the crowd. Pakistan were in the final and we beat them in a warm-up and group game. Who knows what could’ve happened hade we won that semi,” Pringle lamented.