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South Africa's Under-19s have always fared a little better than the seniors. And this year they achieved something no senior team from the country has ever done
March 3, 2014
Proud. Smiling. Satisfied.
Series/Tournaments: ICC Under-19 World Cup
Teams: South Africa
These are the things World Cup champions look like. Today, for the first time, South African cricket fans got to see their own.
The Under-19 team touched down from the UAE. They brought with them a trophy. An ICC trophy. They took it around Newlands so everyone could see. As they did, a baby monkey leapt off South African cricket's back.
When South Africa last had their hands on one, most of these young men who paraded around today were only just learning to walk. And many would argue the 1998 ICC Knockout Trophy (now called the Champions Trophy) does not rank anywhere near a World Cup crown, something the senior side has not even got close to.
The young ones have always fared a little better. They have won knockout games, which the big boys have yet to do, and even reached the final on three previous occasions. Two years ago they had a team that was talked about as good enough to go all the way. Ray Jennings called the class of 2012 his most talented bunch but South Africans have heard that kind of thing before.
Jennings didn't say much ahead of this year's event, and it kicked off almost unnoticed here. The group stages swept by under the radar, so did the quarter-final, and it was really only when South Africa's Under-19s were due to take on Australia's in the semi-final, that some hype was generated. Had Australia's senior side not been touring the country at the same time, there's a good chance that match would not have received much attention either, but the combination was too perfect to ignore.
The old enemy. The current enemy. And the future enemy. All at the same time. No wonder Aiden Markram, the Under-19 captain, said he could feel the fixture had a heightened sense of importance. "Just knowing our history against them and what was going on at home, that was definitely one of the highlights. We wanted to beat them," he said.
Thanks to Kagiso Rabada's 6 for 25, victory was achieved by a massive margin, and that's when Jennings began to worry. He had taken the team to the brink. As much as he wanted to, he knew he could not push them over. They had to do it themselves. But he could take comfort in them being as prepared as they could be in every way.
"They'd done a lot of homework. For example, when we did video analysis, the guys sat down and did five hours," Jennings said. "Not just a few minutes. The guys were really committed. We went to a match, Bangladesh against Australia, because we knew we'd come up against one of them at some stage. Everybody took notes for the whole match. There was a lot of dedication and a real care factor."
Then, there was only a target of 132 to chase. Only 132.
There were skeptics everywhere. South Africa are not the kind of team who mess up chasing at less than three runs an over. But in a high-pressure situation, they have become known as the only team who can engineer a defeat from a seemingly straightforward task.
Jennings knew that. "I was worried because when you're chasing 132 and you don't get there, people will say you choked. If you're only chasing 280 or something and you don't get there, people say other things but 130 is different," he said.
He was right. When South Africa slumped to 28 for 2, one of the members of the press corps at Newlands made mock choking sounds. "Just call me when they need 30 runs off the last seven overs with two wickets in hand," the journalist said. That never happened.
But something almost as worrying did. As the chase neared its end, South Africa went from 99 for 2 to 100 for 4. Throats were being cleared violently. They still needed 32 runs but had six wickets in hand and 16.5 overs to do it. Surely, surely, surely, they would not mess it up.
Not much time could be spent dwelling on it, though. With Michael Clarke and Morne Morkel tussling in one of cricket's most intriguing boxing matches, everyone had something else to think about.
Somewhere in the middle of all of that, the result appeared on the scoreboard. "South Africa Under-19 win World Cup." The last three words had to be seen to be believed. Never before had they applied to a South African cricket team. Ever. For the briefest of moments there was a stunned silence which was soon broken by a loud whoop.
On the field, Graeme Smith was seen smiling and he soon began the applause. Hashim Amla joined in, AB de Villiers did too. For a few seconds every member of the South Africa squad was clapping while they got ready for the next ball. They didn't have much to be pleased about with the way their own match was going but at least the future was bright and everybody seemed to know.
Before lunch on the third day of the ongoing Test, again, there was not much to shout about for South Africa. But one man was doing a solitary war cry. "Well done, well done," Makhaya Ntini boomed through the media area. He was the first former international to personally see and congratulate the victorious Under-19s.
While the scribes, especially the Australian ones with early deadlines tapped away, Ntini tried to get them to pay attention. "This is my son, you know?" he said. Members of the press looked turned around expecting to see little Thando but found themselves looking up at Ngazibini Sigwili, the left-arm quick from East London . Ntini quickly explained. "We play at the same club. And I am now so proud of him. He is a champion, you know."
So are all the rest of them, and they soon got the attention they deserved. A small press conference was organised, Markram and Jennings spoke briefly about their experiences in the UAE and then appeared on television. At tea time the squad went on a lap of honour around the field, and it was then that the appreciation for what they had done could be seen.
The Newlands crowd was on its feet, cheering. The team waved a flag, carried first by Jennings and then handed to Rabada while Jennings filmed the moment. Incidentally, they could be his last as Under-19 coach. Some of them signed autographs. Others posed for pictures, and at the end they were welcomed onto a podium to receive an official congratulations. Some members of the South African Test team were also there to greet them.
The national side has other things to think about at the moment but in a few weeks' time they too will be playing in an ICC event. They might take some inspiration from the men they saw in front of them today and the words of their coach. "Choking is an irrelevant word," Jennings said. For South Africa's new World Cup champions, it most definitely is.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondentFeeds: Firdose Moonda
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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