SA minister pleased with end to knockout jinx
Bunch of winners, bunch of losers and now "bunch of semi-finalists heading for a World Cup win." The last one does not quite have the same ring to it, but it's what South Africa's sports minister Fikile Mbalula came up with in his press release congratulating the side for their historic, first-ever knockout win at a World Cup.
"This win ends a knockout victory drought that was brought upon us in the semi-final loss to England in 1992. Minister Mbalula thanks captain AB de Villiers for delivering on his promise that they won't choke today and also thanks South Africans for their continued support to the national team," the statement read.
"Going into the semi-finals, the Proteas will need more of our support. Those who labelled them chokers can now call them 'bunch of semi-finalists' who are heading for a World Cup Win."
Mbalula has made a name shooting from the hip from it comes to national sports' team's performances. He famously called Bafana Bafana, the football team, a "bunch of losers," when they failed at the Africa National Championships last year. Since then, he has been demanding a "bunch of winners," from all other teams and de Villiers' side has not escaped.
"We are releasing you to go and win it for South Africa," Mbalula ordered at the official send-off, when he also informed the team he would not travel to the World Cup unless they reached the semi-finals. He has yet to confirm his attendance in Auckland on Tuesday but retweeted a question asking if was traveling, perhaps in the hope of prompting his seniors.
If he does not make it to New Zealand, Mbalula will be leading the supporters club back home, as he has done so far. He wears a South African shirt on every match day and follows all the matches closely on social media. A day before the quarter-final against Sri Lanka began he posted his usual war cry. "Don't have mercy on them. MOER HULLE !!" and as the quarter-final began, he laid down the gauntlet: "Bunch of _________" wrote Mbalula before he filled in the blanks later.
More measured reactions came from South African players who have been part of sides who could not get past the knockout rounds. Graeme Smith, who played in three World Cups between 2003 and 2011 and was in Melbourne for South Africa's game against India, said he had a "lump in my throat watching our boys dominate today," while Jacques Kallis, a five-time World Cup veteran, called it the "perfect game."
But the quietest celebrations came from the South African camp themselves, who refrained from over-the-top reactions to their quarterfinal win in an attempt to see the bigger picture. "We've hopefully still got two games left in this tournament," de Villiers said.
Nobody asked him whether he dedicated the quarter-final victory to the eccentric minister or expectant former team-mates but de Villiers seemed to understand the importance of gifting it to everyone in South Africa who had waited so long to see their team advance.
"In tournaments like this you're always under pressure and you want to do the people that support you, you want to do them proud, and you want to make them feel that they're supporting the right team and they're supporting for a good reason. So I'm very, very chuffed at the way we performed. It was a big pressure game, and we just showed everyone that we can do it," he said.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent