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South Africa’s Journey Home Was Marked By Solitude

South Africa's journey home was marked by solitude
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Four hours after Rohit Sharma’s squad and the Men’s T20 World Cup trophy were set to be received by Narendra Modi in Delhi on Thursday, South Africa’s returning players from the tournament were greeted by their country’s acting deputy director general from the department of sport, arts, and culture in Johannesburg.

The Indian team was welcomed by the prime minister himself, while the South Africans were met by a relatively low-ranking official. Correction: an acting low-ranking official. This disparity in reception vividly illustrated the difference between winning and losing the final at Kensington Oval in Bridgetown, Barbados, on Saturday.

The teams were separated by a mere seven runs. Only India’s five-run victory over Pakistan in the inaugural tournament in 2007 was closer, and Saturday’s final was one of only three out of the nine editions that went down to the last over.

“Although [South Africa] fell short at the end, they made us immensely proud. True victory lies in the quality of the competition, not merely the final score,” said Rihan Richards, CSA’s president, in media reports. 

Good luck explaining that to prime ministers, acting officials, and everyone else. Winners are winners and losers are losers, regardless of the margin. Did it matter that the South Africans were defeated by a team featuring modern greats like Virat Kohli and Jasprit Bumrah?

“I think you could tell by the emotions of the players on the field that it probably didn’t. To lose that way always hurts. When margins are small you’re always reflecting on what might have been,” ball head coach Rob Walter remarked.

What could have been was unprecedented and remains so. South Africa seemed on course to win their first Men’s World Cup final, needing just 30 runs off the last 30 balls with six wickets in hand and Heinrich Klaasen and David Miller well set at the crease. Did the events of those final five overs rank among the team’s notorious failures to secure victory under pressure?

“I do believe South Africa will have to win a World Cup for everyone to stop talking about choking. It seems that tag will follow us until the trophy is lifted,” Walter added.

        The next chance to add to their trophy cabinet will be at the Champions Trophy in Pakistan in February and March next year. However, it’s the World Cups that hold the most significance. The T20 version will be contested again in Sri Lanka and India in 2026, and the 2027 ODI World Cup will take place in South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Namibia. 

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