South African sports teams have been involved in some real clangers over the years. Pride of place goes to a top-end cricket match that took place in Edgbaston, England 10 years ago. It was the semi-final of the World Cup: Australia against South Africa, the hardened troopers against the wide-eyed aspirants. Eight years after their readmission to world sport, the South African cricket team had yet to reach a major final. "Chokers" was the tagline being thrown about and the team despised it.
This was their chance. "We're tipped as favourites, we're going to play like favourites," said Hansie Cronje, their captain. But in one of those epic dramas that only sport can provide, rotten luck and a moment of madness conspired to deny South Africa. Having dismissed Australia cheaply for 213 (Shaun Pollock took five wickets for 36 runs), the Proteas attacked the target with Jacques Kallis pounding 53 and Jonty Rhodes and Pollock weighing in nicely.
Somehow they coped with a Shane Warne in full majesty, the spin-bowling genius carved up the top order with four for 29. After the demise of Kallis and Rhodes, big-hitting Lance Klusener, the quiet hurricane, took charge. The third umpire ruled Steve Elworthy out of his crease, bringing bowling hero Allan Donald - he had taken four for 32 earlier in the day - into the heat of battle. Moments later Paul Reiffel dropped Klusener, whose smashed shot passed straight through his hands at long-on.
And so the pendulum swung. Even as the crescendo built in the final over, South Africa were in the ascendancy. Klusener cracked one four. And then another. Just one run was needed from four balls. Most spectators would have backed the batsmen, especially as Klusener's big hitting had dominated the tournament. Sensing the party to come, Donald punched the air and danced a little jig. But Donald backed up too far for the next ball and was almost run out as Klusener mis-hit the shot.
But this was no time to panic. The balance was still with South Africa. And then it all went wrong. Klusener hammered the next ball from Damien Fleming straight down the wicket and charged off, assuming that Donald would be flying down the wicket. He wasn't. Donald was watching the ball and was rooted to the spot. Alarmed to see Klusener screaming down the track, Donald finally set off, only to drop his bat.
The ball was thrown to Lehmann, then to wicketkeeper Adam Gilchrist, who broke the stumps and South African hearts. The match was tied - 213 all out. It was a staggering denouement to a cracking match. But it was also not good enough for South Africa: Australia advanced because they had won the earlier Super Six match between the teams. The Australians erupted in celebration. It did not seem real, it could not be.
As Donald and Klusener traipsed off, cold, bitter reality took hold. South Africa had blown it again, their chance at glory ruined by indecision and alarm. Years later, Donald reflected on his awful role that day. "I don't think disappointment comes in bigger packages than that. It was the most disgusting thing that could happen," he said. "The headlines in South Africa were not friendly. There was one saying 'Donald, don't bother coming home'. "
A pall of gloom settled on the country in the immediate aftermath. "Hansie's boys shattered," was a headline in the Daily Star. "A stunning suicidal run out pulled the shutters down on South Africa's World Cup aspirations," said the Cape Times. Those words perfectly summed up the national mood. Indeed, not even the knowledge that South Africa had played a part in what came to be commonly regarded as the greatest match in one-day cricket history (until a 438 game between these same teams seven years later) was enough to soothe shattered spirits.
"We were so close, four years after the rugby guys," said Donald. "But you have to accept it, get on with it. There's nothing you can do about it. " The chokers tag remains associated with South Africa to this day - seen as recently as Thursday when they were beaten by Pakistan in the semi-finals of the World Twenty20 in England. firstname.lastname@example.org