Poor World Cup for African nations

March 31st, 2011 - 5:31 pm ICT by IANS  

Mumbai, March 31 (IANS) It is a World Cup dominated by sub-continental teams and not an African Safari, as many believed seeing the all-round strength of the South African team.

For the first time in 15 years, the African challenge unexpectedly ended in the quarterfinals, with South Africa choking to a 49-run defeat by New Zealand in Dhaka.

Though sides from Africa have never featured in a World Cup final, they made it to the last four in four of the five preceding editions of the big ticket event, the only exception being in 1996 - the previous occasion when the tourney was organised in the sub-continent.

While South Africa ended up as a losing semifinalist in 1992, 1999 and 2007, minnows Kenya surprised everybody by making it to the pre-title round in 2003 in the only edition held in the African continent.

In all, four African nations - South Africa, Kenya, Zimbabwe and Namibia - and a combined East African team comprising players of Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda have taken part in the main stages of the World Cup since its inception in 1975, with a poor 47-81 win-loss record.

Excepting South Africa (31 wins against 13 defeats), all other sides from the continent have crashed to an overwhelmingly more number of losses than victories.

South Africa made their maiden appearance in the cup in 1992 after the end of the apartheid era, and have always looked the team to beat, except in 2003, when they could not clear the first round.

However, despite impressive performances characterised by meticulous planning, an aggressive approach and intensity in group games, in 1992, 1996, 1999, and 2007, South Africa have all through failed to replicate the successes in the knock-out rounds.

They have lost the crunch matches from a winning position, either crumbling under pressure or through bizarre twists and turns.

Having advanced to the quarterfinals topping Group B with a 5-1 win-loss record in the current Cup, the Graeme Smith led side lost six wickets within 38 runs in the middle overs against the Kiwis to stumble out of reckoning.

Luck, and sometimes the tremulous thin line between victory and defeat, have conspired against the South Africans.

In 1992, making their debut in the World Cup, the South Africans were on a song in the semifinal, but lost to England when they were well-placed to win when heavy rain for 12 minutes turned the game upside down. South Africa needed 22 from 13 balls. But an outlandish rain rule made it first 22 from seven balls and then 21 from one after another sharp shower.

They had a rollicking start in 1996, wining all the group games, but failed to go past West Indies in the quarters.

In 1999, their semifinal with Australia ended in a tie and they were eliminated because they had lost when the two met at the group stage.

Four years later, the island nation of Sri Lanka caused South Africa’s downfall in the preliminary stages. A torrential downpour brought a premature end to the match, but South Africa were again unlucky as they miscalculated the Duckworth-Lewis rule and failed to move to Super Six by a single run.

But despite having failed to deliver, the Proteas have come up with outstanding individual performances in the game’s biggest carnival. Lance Klusener ended up with 281 runs and 17 wickets to end as Man of the Tournament in 1999; Gary Kirsten blazed to an unconquered 188 opposite United Arab Emirates in 1996 to record the highest individual score in an innings of the World Cup.

Kenya, which supplied half of the 14-member squad to the 1975 East Africa side, have played as an individual nation in all five World Cups from 1996 till now, but except 2003, they have never crossed the first round hurdle.

For Kenya, 2003 was their high noon in international cricket, as they became the first non-Test nation to proceed beyond the first round, thanks to a shock win over Sri Lanka and New Zealand’s decision to forfeit a match in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi due to security concerns.

They got past Bangladesh in the first round and accounted for Zimbabwe in the Super Six, only to bow out with a 91-run defeat to India in the semifinal.

However, in 2011, they failed to cause even a ripple, losing all their six group encounters.

Zimbabwe have played in all eight World Cup tournaments since a sensational start in 1983. The Duncan Fletcher led side pulled off an unbelievable 13-run win over Australia in their maiden match 28 years back. They also ran ultimate champions India close in another group game. At one stage, India seemed to be tottering at 17/5, till a fairy tale 175 not out from skipper Kapil Dev turned things around.

The Zimbabweans also made the Super Six in 1999 and 2003, but exited from the present competition after losing four of their half-a-dozen group matches.

The combined East African team that took part in the inaugural edition had a very unmemorable outing, receiving a comprehensive drubbing in all their group ties.

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