South Africa became the first team to reach semi-final of ICC Cricket World Cup 2015 © Getty Images
South Africa became the first team to reach semi-final of ICC Cricket World Cup 2015 © Getty Images

As the Cricket World smacked its lips at the prospect of penning another possible obituary of a team that has made several ignominious exits in the World Cup, the curse of the knockout match magically lifted as South Africa empathically got the monkey of their back in the first quarter-final of the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015 against Sri Lanka. AnkurDhawan reflects on the shift in tide, and reckons that South Africa are now the team to fear ahead of the semi-final and a possible final.

Seven World Cups, 23 painful years and six attempts it took for the perennial chokers to reverse the trend of losing knockout matches at the drop of a hat. The law of averages finally came to their rescue as South Africa stormed into the semi-final. It was at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) in 1992 that South Africa’s inscrutable losing streak in knockout games took root; it is ironic that it should now break out of the shackles at the same venue. South Africa’s pounding of Sri Lanka was immaculate even as they were asked to chase, which has been South Africa’s Achilles heel in recent times, especially in high pressure World Cup games. However, except for the toss of the coin, everything the Proteas touched turned to gold, an aberration considering their previous manner of defeats in knockout matches. READ: South Africa thrash Sri Lanka by nine wickets

From the outset it felt as though South Africa had been cooling their heels for the last one month, biding their time through the group stage, not wanting to meander in a cloud of intensity too early in the tournament. AB de Villiers was severely critical of himself and the side for not turning up against Pakistan but secretly, perhaps, the Proteas found solace in the fact that their best hadn’t been witnessed by the World yet; it was to be unleashed when it really mattered. Full scorecard: Sri Lanka vs South Africa, ICC Cricket World Cup 2015 Quarter-Final 1

It started with a bold move to play the more attacking Kyle Abbott instead of opting for the consistency of a merely steady Vernon Philander. Abbott, in tandem with Quinton de Kock, set the tone for the annihilation that followed. The sight of an airborne de Kock, diving full length to his left and plucking the ball out of thin air on the second attempt from between first and second slip, was a signal of South Africa’s intent. Dale Steyn’s cries of joy after dismissing TillakaratneDilshan muzzled the pain of yesteryears. The trinity of Steyn, Abbott andMorneMorkel breathed fire like a Hungarian Horntail. Although the spinners grabbed the bulk of the wickets, it was a corollary of the intense pressure built up by Steyn and co. READ: JP Duminy’s hat-trick

De Kock had been South Africa’s weakest link ever since returning from injury. Pundits would have advocated tinkering with the line-up considering de Kock failed to impact a single match during the group stage. Yet, he was persisted with and the phrase — cometh the hour, cometh the man — springs to mind. His sudden discovery of form coincided with South Africa’s sudden surge at a highly opportune hour. The South African bowlers had steamrolled Sri Lanka but ghosts of the past hadn’t been exorcised just yet, but this time it really was just a matter of time. De Kock led the chase in destructive fashion, ensuring South Africa entered the Semi-Final with the momentum of an airplane at the point of take-off.

It has often been suggested that the key to South Africa’s success is to play knockout matches as though it were a bilateral series, which they have traditionally dominated. All the mumbo-jumbo can be cast aside. They simply waited patiently for the right time to strike. The Proteas now enter a semi-final with the disposition of a team that’s been hurting for years, but with no psychological baggage. It’s scary to think what lies in store for New Zealand (or West Indies) who they are expected to meet at Auckland. New Zealand have been clinical through the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015, yet there is a sense of fate in South Africa finally overcoming the hoodoo.

(Ankur Dhawan is a reporter with CricketCountry. Heavily influenced by dystopian novels, he naturally has about 59 conspiracy theories for every moment in the game of cricket. On finding a direct link between his head and the tip of his fingers, he also writes about it)