After 21 years of sporting isolation, South Africa arrived at their first World Cup as an unknown force and stunned the hosts, Australia, in their opening match. A 25-year-old Allan Donald should have had a wicket with his first ball, but the umpire did not hear what seemed to be a clear edge. He still ended up with 3 for 34 in ten overs, keeping Australia to 170 for 9. The chase was managed with relative ease by Kepler Wessels, who scored 81 not out, and Peter Kirsten, 49 not out. Wessels had played 54 ODIs for Australia, his adopted country, but now captained the country of his birth.
The 1999 World Cup will forever be remembered for Lance Klusener's late, under-pressure hitting. And this Super Sixes match produced, probably, his best performance in the tournament. Chasing 221, the top order had crumbled, and Jacques Kallis and Shaun Pollock had to rescue the team from 58 for 5. Their 77-run partnership had kept South Africa in the game, but when Pollock was out for 30, Klusener faced a situation of needing 86 to win off 83 balls. He had already made significant contributions against Sri Lanka (52*), England (48*), and Zimbabwe (52*), and here he smashed 46 not out off 41 balls, including three sixes and three fours, to give South Africa the two points that would prove crucial to their qualification to the semi-finals.
In the days before women cricketers were professionals, South Africa struggled for consistency. They hosted the 2005 Women's World Cup and started with a no-result against Ireland. Then, against West Indies, they slid to 19 for 4. Opener Cri-zelda Brits' 72 took them to a respectable 169. She then played a major role in defending the total, first getting involved in an early run-out and then taking four wickets, three of them in a crucial phase between the 32nd and 38th overs. Despite those quick strikes, West Indies remained in the hunt until the final over, when Brits struck her final blow and secured a one-run win. That was South Africa's only victory of the tournament.
South Africa and India were the two favourites to top Group B at the 2011 World Cup. Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag laid into South Africa's attack early, getting to 142 within 18 overs. Tendulkar made 111, but after his dismissal, Dale Steyn put on a masterclass at the death, ending up with 5 for 50, having sparked an India collapse that saw them go from 267 for 1 in 39.4 overs to 296 all out in 48.4. South Africa kept pace in the chase thanks to half-centuries by Hashim Amla, Jacques Kallis and AB de Villiers, but strikes at regular intervals kept India in the hunt. When Johan Botha was dismissed in the 48th over, South Africa needed 18 off 13 balls. Zaheer Khan bowled a brilliant 49th over, giving away just four runs. A thick inside edge, a massive hit over cow corner, and a smash through the covers, all from Robin Peterson, gave South Africa victory.
In their first 50-over World Cup as fully contracted professionals, the South African women's team announced themselves with a thrilling win against Pakistan. They struck regularly through Pakistan's innings, with left-arm seamer Moseline Daniels' 2 for 21 in ten overs the standout performance. Lizelle Lee and Laura Wolvaardt, all of 18 years old, got the chase of 207 underway with a stand of 113 inside 26 overs. But once they were gone, South Africa lost wickets rapidly and found themselves needing 30 to win off the last five overs with just three wickets left. Sune Luus and Shabnim Ismail, who scored 22 off 16 balls, completed the chase with an over to spare. South Africa went on to reach the semi-finals, where they lost to England in another tight finish.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent