Proteas need their own 'Pieter-Steph du Toit' moment to break World Cup curse

Proteas captain Temba Bavuma has his hands on his head during 2023 ICC Cricket World Cup semi-final against Australia. Picture: Dibyangshu Sarkar / AFP

Proteas captain Temba Bavuma has his hands on his head during 2023 ICC Cricket World Cup semi-final against Australia. Picture: Dibyangshu Sarkar / AFP

Published Apr 21, 2024


“Everyone is scared. If you’re scared, say so... We’ll make a plan.”

These are the immortal words of Springboks forward Pieter-Steph du Toit during halftime of the Springboks’ epic Rugby World Cup quarter-final against England last year.

It was featured in the episode four of the Springboks’ fly-on-the-wall documentary Chasing the Sun 2. It was a powerful moment that showed how the team pulled together with their backs against the wall.

It wasn’t the only moment that showcased the Springboks’ bullish mentality on their way to Rugby World Cup glory in France.

— DStv (@DStv) April 16, 2024

The Springboks were under the pump in the first half against England and for the first time they looked overwhelmed by the occasion.

And out of nowhere the quiet, but hard man of the team Du Toit steps up, looks his teammates in the eyes and basically says we’re in this together.

Three one-point wins in the quarters, semis and final, and with the help of the behind-the-scenes footage, basically sum up the Springboks’ ability to deal with adversity and pressure situations.

Another theme is that the Boks play for more than just themselves. They play to bring South Africans hope and joy. They want to inspire.

If there is one team that encapsulates Hugh Masekela’s ‘Thuma Mina’, it’s Rassie Erasmus and Siya Kolisi’s Springboks. They fight for each other. They fight for South Africa. “Send me, thuma mina...

But while the Springboks know how to get the job done, their cricketing Proteas counterparts have often shown at World Cups that they don’t seem to have the stomach for the fight.

The Proteas’ Cricket World Cup heartache has been well documented, having been labelled “chokers” for the longest time.

It’s true, the South African cricket team have had their fair share of bad luck at World Cups since readmission. The rain in 1992, 2003 and to a lesser extent in 2015 dampened their chances of glory, but in between those events, there have been a couple of occasions when they were bundled out with a whimper.

Proteas tale of Cricket World Cup woe

In 1999, the Proteas fell one-run short when Allan Donald and Lance Klusener was involved in a catastrophic run out after Klusener had put the team on the brink of victory.

Klusener ran for the hills, Donald dithered, the Proteas choked.

In 2007, in the West Indies, the Proteas crumbled against Australia in the semi-finals as the pressure got to the batsmen, who looked all at sea when calm heads were needed.

After the match, some players and staff in the dressing room looked relieved that the game was over because of the stress, instead of being deeply disappointed like the people at home in South Africa.

In 2011, the Proteas failed to chase a modest target against New Zealand when they were cruising in the quarter-final in Bangladesh, as calamitous shot-making and the crucial run-out of AB de Villiers caused the chaos.

The core of that team had played in three or four World Cups, so you would have expected better. But a common theme in all those failures has been that none of the big players stood up when the team and the country needed them most.

The Proteas have had some talented teams, but while cricket may be a team sport, great individual performances win World Cups.

The Wasim Akrams, Ricky Pontings and Arivinda de Silvas of this world are testimony to that fact.

Working towards a common goal the key

A former player, who played at the World Cup for the Proteas, but wishes to remain anonymous, says the Springboks have a defined culture, which is similar to the Australian cricket set-up.

Australia won their sixth Cricket World Cup in India in 2023 after initially not playing their best cricket. But, after a remarkable 200 by Glen Maxwell against Afghanistan to keep them in the tournament, they just switched gears and took the tournament by the scruff of the neck.

Like the Springboks, the Australians also have that ‘it’s us against the world’ mentality.

“It doesn’t matter if they struggle initially, because they have a strong base and a belief. I think both the Aussies and the Springboks have a defined culture,” the former Protea said.

“In South Africa we’re still trying to define what our cricket is about. When you don’t have an identity, you can’t work towards a common goal.

“There is no clarity. Clarity is important for a sportsman. We have wonderful players in this country, but that whole alignment towards a common goal and identity needs to be there in our cricket.”

Alignment and getting everyone to sing off the same hymn sheet is something that Erasmus has done well since taking over in 2018.

He has already had one alignment camp with the country’s best players, giving them the vision and selection criteria for the upcoming Test series against Ireland and the one-off match against Portugal.

These camps helps the new blood integrate a lot of faster, because they understand the culture and what is expected of them at the highest level. So, by the time the next World Cup comes around they know their roles on and off the field.

The Proteas, on the other hand, will have no such thing ahead of the T20 World Cup in the West Indies in June, with many of the star players currently playing in the Indian Premier League and others involved in the domestic T20 competition.

It’s not really Cricket South Africa’s fault, but the lack of funds in our cricket gives these T20 tournaments priority over getting the team ready for a global showpiece.

Having the conviction to make the big decisions

Erasmus also isn’t afraid to make the tough decisions, like replacing Manie Libbok for Handre Pollard 30 minutes into a World Cup semi-final.

He even hinted at dropping Siya Kolisi, Eben Etzebeth and Duane Vermeulen after the defeat to Ireland.

During the recent Cricket World Cup, the Proteas gambled on an injured Temba Bavuma’s in the semi-final against Australia, instead of taking the emotion out of it and dropping the captain for a fit and in-form Reeza Hendricks.

Chasing the Sun 2 has given the Proteas a front row seat in to what it takes to get over the line at the World Cup, while Erasmus’ alignment blue prints are possibly just a phone call away.

Those are all the ingredients for the Proteas to breed more Pieter-Steph du Toits to try and break their World Cup hoodoo.

Maybe in the West Indies and the USA in June for the T20 World Cup, the Proteas might finally chase the sun.