India v South Africa, World T20, semi-final April 3, 2014

South Africa and the ghosts of defeats past

South Africa have a history of goofing up at the knockout stage of world tournaments. Will it be different this time?

At crunch time in a major competition every team is focused on their opposition. They have to know almost as much about the 11 players on the other side as they do about themselves because that's the only way they will be able to beat them.

Of course the company line is to deny that and insist the focus is solely inward-looking and for one team that may actually be true - South Africa. Not only will they take on India in the semi-finals but they will also be jousting with the demons of almost every South African side who have been booted out of a knock-out match at an ICC event in the past.

That is a lot of people to be playing against and the ones who will haunt them most are the ghosts of Dhaka 2011 - not just because it is the same venue. Although South Africa have participated and failed at two tournaments since then, the 2012 World T20 and the 2013 Champions Trophy in which they reached the semi-finals, the 2011 World Cup is the one that stung most because it looked like South Africa's to win.

They sailed through the group stages, even beating the hosts and eventual champions India. They were the only side whose bowling attack dismissed the opposition in every game of the first round; the only one with 60 wickets to their name. They were handed what seemed the easiest quarter-final opponent, New Zealand. They thought nothing could go wrong and then everything did.

Vincent Barnes, who was the assistant coach, told Independent Newspapers Morne Morkel and Dale Steyn had their worst net session the day before the quarter-final. Barnes had to get the psychologist, Henning Gericke, to talk to both of them. There was also uncertainty over the playing XI because Steyn and Morkel had missed the final group stage match with niggles and their replacements, Lonwabo Tsotsobe and Wayne Parnell, had done well. Barnes aimed to clarify the team early to ease the concerns.

While Robin Peterson, who was South Africa's highest wicket-taker at the tournament, remembers preparing well, he admitted carelessness crept in. "Maybe there was a little bit of complacency at that stage," Peterson told ESPNcricinfo. "That game was just an enigma - to let ourselves down like that. I remember sitting in the change-room afterwards and we just couldn't believe the tournament was over for us."

Nine of the 15 members of the current World T20 squad experienced the same thing but Peterson believes the same affliction won't hit them this time. "I'm in touch with a lot of the guys and I know the feelings in the camp. Every game they play, I play it with them. There's some nerves but there's also a lot excitement. If they can get the balance between dealing with the pressure and having fun, they will do well."

But it is difficult to enjoy yourself when there are big things, things you have never achieved before, expected of you. "You have to be realistic as well. There can only be one winner," Peterson said. "But this is a young team and I think that's a good thing. Psychologically, they can draw on their recent performances against India, they have beaten them so they can do it again."

Last December, South Africa won a three-match ODI series 2-nil and a two-Test series, 1-nil. "We've had huge success against them, this season especially, and we're playing good cricket," Faf du Plessis said. Good enough to sneak under the radar for most of the tournament and pop into the final four almost by surprise. For another team that would not be cricket worth celebrating but for South Africa it is because, as Peterson explained, "it's put them are on an upward curve."

All of that may actually mean nothing because their opposition are not burdened by the stresses that accompany South Africa. "Most of these guys are involved in the Champions Trophy, so that's one experience everybody can draw from," India offspinner R Ashwin reminded. "We don't have any baggage. We've not lost many big competitions, there will be no scars with us. We have nothing to lose."

South Africa have everything to lose and they're already talking like they know it. "It's going to be a high-pressured game. We're expecting the pressure and so it's about making sure we do the basics really well," du Plessis said. "We've played really well as a team and we've had different guys performing in every single game so we're not relying on anyone [in particular]."

They can't even bank on summoning some of the good times Dhaka has given them, and there has been one standout, because none of them were around at the time. In 1998, South Africa won the inaugural Champions Trophy in Bangladesh but they're not even going to think about that on Friday. "I was still at school, so I was very young," du Plessis said. "But it's irrelevant for us as a group of players to be looking at past performances. These T20 tournaments are about what you do on the day, nothing before has any importance."

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • saurabh on April 4, 2014, 11:12 GMT

    being an is vry difficult for me support any one SA are one of my fav.teams..SA was clearly the best side in 92,96,99 WCs..luck hasn't been on their side..but in this WC u can see 1 change they hav struggled in league this time they might crack the of avg.might work for them this time around....

  • Andrew on April 4, 2014, 11:07 GMT

    South Africa in 1992 were beaten by the weather ... 1996 the drop of Brian Lara ... 1999 The run out of Allan Donald ... 2003 The rain affected tie ... 2007 Australian brute force ... 2011 New Zealand determination ... T20s has been another kettle of fish ... last time out we were one of the favorites ... just to lose by small margins in the super 6 phase ... Now we come in as underdogs in a Sub-continent battle ... hopefully we can spoil their party ...first India ... then Sri Lanka ...

  • Wesley on April 4, 2014, 9:27 GMT

    Why have we ever been regarded as favorites in these competitions. South African limited overs cricket has not been consistent for a very long time, and by that I don't' mean results, I mean we have shuffled players around but never come up with the right formula to success. What has happened is we have somehow always flown out the blocks and made knock outs only to lose these games. I don't think since 2003 we have ever gone into an event as favorites.

    We have been ugly this whole tournament but sit in a Semi Final even defying myself who suggested we had no hope in ever making it out the group.

  • Venkat on April 4, 2014, 8:41 GMT

    Without any doubt,the SA team has depth in all the departments except spin bowling . The pitch at Dhaka has been spinner friendly right through the tournament . Since the highest total posted by any team against India in the group matches is 138 , it will take enormous effort from SA batsmen to post a big total to challenge India. If SA is inserted by India, one can safely presume that the final will be between Srilanka and India.

  • jim on April 4, 2014, 7:34 GMT

    when u remember that QF you can easily say SA lost because of bad luck and because AB didnot know to say "no". bad luck means Amla was dismissed strangely, an edge ricocheting off the boot to the slip. AB was called for an unnecessary single by FAF. 2 best batsmen out in this fashion and what can you say?

  • Dummy4 on April 4, 2014, 7:05 GMT

    I hope SA win Today and break their fear of semi's

  • siddhartha on April 4, 2014, 4:55 GMT

    Hopefully SA does not panic this time. I remember in Champions trophy AB got out playing a typical tail enders shot against England in semi finals which was clear sign of panic.

  • Ajay on April 4, 2014, 4:36 GMT

    The first semi final was a no match where the big gap b/w the first team in the group and second team of other group was visible throughout the match. Though SA has done well to win from loosing conditions (NZ and Netherlands), India is unlikely to provide them that escape route. This tournament deserves India vs SL final and if India wins they will be real champion as they wud have defeated all top 5 countries (Pak, WI, Aus, SA and SL) to win this.

  • Sarang on April 4, 2014, 4:14 GMT

    I think it is SAF media and fans who keep putting pressure on the team when it comes to WC. The team wants to get out of that mindset but others don't let them. AB was candid to accept the choking factor and that should have been the end of it. I am an Indian fan but always liked SA and WI. So, I wouldn't mind Ind or SA to win the tournament now that WI is out. However, I don't think SA will be able to beat SL. So, its better Ind goes through the final and makes SL another bridesmaid.

  • Prince on April 4, 2014, 0:50 GMT

    If SA beat India, Srilanka will be celebrating their T20 trophy win in Sunday.

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