World Cup archive: When home advantage was no advantage

3 March 2003, CWC2003, South Africa v Sri Lanka, Kingsmead, Durban, South Africa. Shaun Pollock looks on dejectedly. Photo Credit:©Tertius PickardGallo Images.

The 2003 World Cup will be remembered for the Proteas being stumped by rain and Duckworth-Lewis, but that was actually the least of their problems.

Four years after the heartache of the Edgbaston debacle, where a tie with the Aussies eliminated South Africa from playing in the final, history chose to uncannily and cruelly repeat itself in the 2003 edition – hosted for the first time in Africa.

Yes, a tied result ended the Proteas’ participation in a World Cup once again.

So much hope and expectation had been invested in the main co-hosts to reward home fans that, according to Boeta Dippenaar, it proved to the side’s detriment.

“It all started so well,” recounted the former stalwart, who averaged a healthy 42,23 from 107 one-day international appearances.

“It was a tremendous privilege to be part of the squad that would vie for the trophy on home soil. I remember doing our lap during the opening ceremony (at Newlands) and thinking to myself that this was unreal.”

But in an environment where professionalism entails various commercial commitments – some even label it shenanigans – too, the Proteas had to contend with the distractions that come with being the local darlings.

“You wouldn’t believe how many off-field commitments we had during the tournament. It was astonishing,” said Dippenaar.

“At some stages we had to be at functions and signing sessions every day. It was reality, but I couldn’t help but feel that we were prisoners in our own country.

“There simply wasn’t any meaningful opportunities to have some quiet introspection and I think the squad craved it. Consequently, I think we took our eyes off the ball and simply didn’t focus.”

That was clearly evident in the Proteas’ play throughout the tournament as they delivered some wildly inconsistent performances.

In fact, they were unable to gain a win over any of their Test-playing opponents – West Indies, New Zealand and Sri Lanka – in their group.

“I know it sounds like a lame excuse but the things off the field really hampered us. There was nothing wrong with our preparations before the tournament started, we romped to comprehensive 4-1 series wins over Sri Lanka and Pakistan beforehand,” said Dippenaar.

He’s not shy to suggest that the team got their approach wrong.

“It’s easy to say this in hindsight but we should’ve boxed smarter. Winning a World Cup requires the utmost focus and we should’ve been more hard-nosed about our off-field commitments.”

Requiring a victory in their last group meeting with Sri Lanka in Durban, the Proteas – weighed down with suffocating expectations that Dippenaar admitted confiding about in then-assistant coach Corrie van Zyl – made life difficult for themselves by leaking a target of 268.

A feisty Mark Boucher re-ignited the chase by smashing a last gasp six off Muttiah Muralitharan that put them ahead of the par score with the rain bucketing down.

But the gloveman neatly tucked the last ball to leg without taking a run and the umpires decided that the teams had to go off – leaving the score tied, meaning that South Africa were out of their home tournament without reaching the second stage.

“It was just that type of tournament. We just always found ourselves on the wrong side of the equation. If we took that run we would’ve ended top of pool B. Instead we were eliminated. End of story,” recalled Dippenaar.

It was left to the unheralded Kenyans to carry Africa’s hopes, unexpectedly reaching the semifinals with some enthusiastic cricket.

But Dippenaar, an interesting thinker on the game, saw deeper flaws in that achievement.

“Take nothing away from Kenya, they did well. But they took advantage of a flawed system,” he said.

“They were helped by politics – New Zealand refused to play in Nairobi – and the Super Six system.”

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