South African cricket has a date with destiny on Thursday when they face Australia in the second ICC World Cup semi-final.
Play starts at 10.30am, South African time.
The Proteas men’s team have never qualified for a World Cup final, having lost at this stage on four previous occasions in 1992 (Sydney), 1999 (Birmingham), 2007 (St Lucia) and 2015 (Auckland).
Equally, they have never beaten arch-rivals Australia in a knockout match, with the team in canary yellow and green progressing in Birmingham and St Lucia.
The Australians have also inflicted a genuine sense of trauma on the Proteas team and their long-suffering supporters since the 1999 semi-final.
The Proteas, who were captained by the late Hansie Cronjé, were ranked the No 1 one-day international team in the world at the time, but were held to an epic tie through the brilliance of the late Shane Warne.
The lasting image of that fateful day at Edgbaston was that of South African all-rounder Lance Klusener running back to the pavilion, while his teammate and last man Allan Donald was left stranded out in the middle, surrounded by jubilant Australians, as he failed to make his ground for the winning run.
The match was tied, but Australia advanced to the final at Lord’s, where they beat Pakistan to lift the World Cup trophy, while South Africa were branded “chokers”.
It is a label that has stuck with the Proteas ever since due to their failings in the subsequent 24 years.
But now Temba Bavuma and his Class of 2023 have the opportunity to banish all those demons that lived with generations of South African cricketers and spectators. It is an unenviable task, and Bavuma certainly knows the enormity of the challenge.
“We’re not coming up against a Mickey Mouse team. Australia have a lot of experience and confidence in knockout games like this, so we’ve got to respect that,” Bavuma told the media on Wednesday.
Australia captain Pat Cummins certainly remembers the 1999 semi-final too.
“I mean, yeah, the 99 World Cup one, it’s kind of folklore, isn’t it? So, I’ve seen that replay heaps of times, you hear the stories,” Cummins said.
Unfortunately, Bavuma is suffering from a hamstring strain sustained in the last match against Bangladesh, although he is confident of taking his place and leading his team into battle against the Australians.
Should Bavuma pass his regulated fitness tests, it will certainly be a significant moment in South African cricket history.
The 33-year-old from Langa in Cape Town is the first black African to captain the Proteas in any format.
South African sports fans have already celebrated Siya Kolisi leading the Springboks to Rugby World Cup glory earlier this month.
Bavuma and Kolisi are actually very good friends, and have shared numerous conversations about the importance of their roles in this once-divided country.
Bavuma has emphasised that his Proteas team have certainly taken inspiration from Kolisi and the Springboks’ efforts in France.
“That’s what we’ve been speaking about as a team: when the crunch moment comes, when the pressure moments come, we come together as a team, and we find a way to get over the line.”