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Peter Kirsten on the 1992 World Cup: 'We weren't prepared for a heroes' welcome'

Peter Kirsten remembers a tournament in which newcomers South Africa surprised themselves by making the final four

Peter Kirsten
Peter Kirsten plays towards point, Zimbabwe v South Africa, World Cup, Canberra, March 10, 1992

Kirsten, who initially didn't make the preliminary squad, went on to become South Africa's top scorer in the tournament  •  Getty Images

When the preliminary squad for the 1992 World Cup was announced, Jimmy Cook, Clive Rice and I were left out. Maybe they thought I was too old at 36, but I wouldn't say I understood that reasoning, because I dearly wanted to play. I'd watched many World Cups before and I remembered things like India winning in 1983. We had just got back to international cricket, so the hunger to keep playing was only growing. I was mentally ready to go to a World Cup. Eventually we were included with the help of [captain] Kepler Wessels and Ali Bacher. Let's say sense prevailed.
Our opening game against Australia at the SCG was massive. To beat them led to such euphoria.
I was batting in the middle and ended on 49. Kepler hit the winning runs after he stole the strike. But it didn't matter. Steve Tshwete, the African National Congress politician who went on to become the minister of sport, kissed me on my sweaty forehead. That picture still does the rounds in the media. I'll never forget that. I don't think you get ministers doing those kinds of things these days.
Things started going wrong for us when we travelled to New Zealand, where the conditions were very different, much slower to what we found in Australia. These days you can google any information but those days we couldn't do much research.
We made a mistake not picking [left-arm spinner] Omar Henry against New Zealand and I ended up bowling seven overs. Losing that game and the next one to Sri Lanka had us starting to question ourselves, whether we were as good as we thought we were. We beat West Indies, and I played what I think was my best innings of the tournament, against guys like Malcolm Marshall and Curtly Ambrose. I missed the Jonty Rhodes run out match against Pakistan, tweaking a calf muscle, so I guess my age was starting to show.
We had gone from thinking we were not a bad side after our first victory to believing we might be able to win a World Cup, and then came the semi-final against England. We were always in the chase, but when the final revised target was calculated, we couldn't believe it. Suddenly we needed 22 runs off one ball. We didn't understand and we would not have known the ins and outs of how the Clark curve worked. We just wanted to reach the final but we went home instead.
Even though we lost, we were told that we were coming home to a heroes' welcome. But we were not prepared for what we saw. There were thousands of people and they were thrilled the way we played. I don't think anyone expected us to get that far.
I wouldn't go as far as to say we united people, because it was a very fractured time, but we thought we had done enough to make them aware South African cricket was on the up. I would have loved to have had another World Cup but I am grateful that I had a sniff. I also knew I had a younger brother coming up, so I thought I would give him a sniff too.
As told to Firdose Moonda