Baby Proteas are no chokers

 

Harare ‑ South African cricketers have a reputation, when it comes to the World Cup, of choking on the big stage and the horrific mix-up, which led to the run out of Alan Donald at Edgbaston and a depressing loss for the Proteas in a semi-final against Australia in 1999, lingers in the memory.

While it remains the enduring image of the Proteas and their tendency to choke at the World Cup, it isn’t the only one and they have lost a semi-final against England in Sydney in 1992, a group math against Sri Lanka in Durban that knocked them out in 2003 and they collapsed from 102-8, in the quarter-final against New Zealand in Dhaka in 2011, and failed to chase New Zealand’s 222.

Although the Proteas are the number one ranked Test cricket team in the world, they have never won the World Cup despite coming very close only to choke when it mattered most.

But, for the first time, South African cricket has a team that can call itself World Champions after the Baby Proteas, the country’s best teenage cricketers, went to the United Arab Emirates and came home with the ICC Cricket Under-19 World Cup trophy.

Twice, in 2002 and 2008, the baby Proteas had lost in the final of the Under-19 World Cup but, this time, they got it right in Dubai with a comprehensive victory over Pakistan, chasing the targets set by the Asians comfortably with six wickets in hand and 47 balls to spare. Zimbabwe finished 11th, out of the 16 nations that took part in the tournament, while Namibia finished in 14th place.

But the tournament belonged to the Baby Proteas who won all the six matches they played in the tournament, dominating their group, which included Zimbabwe, Canada and the West Indies, winning all three matches and then destroying Afghanistan in the quarter-finals.

The Asian upstarts, who surprised many by reaching the knockout stages of the Super League, scored 197 in their quarter-final tie against the Baby Proteas but the South Africans made their chase look very easy as they lost only one wicket to power to a crushing nine-wicket victory.

The Aussies waited for them in the semi-final and, for supporters of South African cricket, it brought back memories of that unforgettable World Cup showdown at Edgbaston, in 1999, when a place in the final for the Proteas was cruelly snatched from their grasp when victory had appeared routine.

But the Baby Proteas, to their credit, didn’t choke against the teenagers from Down Under as they posted 230/9 and then bundled their opponents out for just 150 runs in a crushing victory to get their ticket into the final.

Skipper Aiden Markram, who won the Player of the Tournament award, led his team impressively throughout the tournament and the remarkable discipline in their attack restricted Pakistan to only 131 in the final.

And, after the Baby Proteas had chased the total, for the loss of just four wickets, to be crowned champions, it was refreshing, for a change, to see a South African national cricket team last the distance without choking.

“It feels amazing. This is the first win for South Africa at a global ICC event, so I can't even describe how I feel right now. The boys are over the moon,” Markram told journalists.

“The team has performed really well in the tournament, and it has been a great experience for all of us. We've learned so many things from this tournament, and there is so much that we can take from here to help us further our careers.”

Cricket South Africa said the Baby Proteas’ success story in the United Arab Emirates represented a wonderful day for the game in the Rainbow Nation.

“Winning the U-19 World Cup for the first time is a wonderful day for South African cricket to celebrate,” Cricket South Africa chief executive, Haroon Lorgat, said in a statement.

“Without exception, we are all very impressed by the manner in which our Under-19 team won this World Cup.

“The way they dominated today's final from the very first ball, and being the only team unbeaten throughout the tournament, showed all the hallmarks of a championship team.

“I would like to extend warm congratulations from the CSA family and indeed from the whole nation to coach Ray Jennings, captain Aiden Markram and all the other players and members of the squad for this inspiring achievement.

“There are a lot of other people who need to be thanked for assisting in the selection and preparation of the side. It is rewarding to see our development structures producing a winning team and such good players.

“To have the best team in the world at Test and Under-19 level is worth celebrating. As South Africans we can all be justifiably proud.”

The Baby Proteas were given a standing ovation by both South African and Australian cricket fans when they made a lap of honour at Newlands on Mondayduring the third day of the third Test between the Proteas and the men from Down Under.

March 2014
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