South Africa at World Cups – the tragic heroes

With Apartheid implied, South Africa missed out on the first four World Cups and has been a part of the last seven only. However, they have been a force to reckon in all the tournaments as their results suggest. Their only group stage exit was at home and it was because of a refused single. South Africa has played in four semifinals so far but is yet to feature in the final.

Team Record:

Played – 55, Won – 35, Lost – 18, Tied – 2

Notable performances:

Semi-finals – 1992, 1999, 2007, 2015

Quarterfinals – 1996, 2011

Most runs: AB de Villiers (1207 runs in 23 matches)

Most wickets: Allan Donald (38 wickets in 25 matches)


South Africa made their World Cup debut in the 1992 edition under the leadership of Kepler Wessels. They played their first match versus Australia at Sydney and defeated the home side by nine wickets. Jonty Rhodes’ fielding was the highlight of South Africa’s campaign and his famous leaping run-out of Inzamam-ul-Haq has been played on loops for years. After clearing the group stage in the third place, South Africa faced England in the semi-final. In the chase, South Africa’s target of 22 runs from 13 balls was brought down to 22 runs from 1 ball due to the existing rain rule. Thus their inaugural campaign was washed out by rain.

Lara takes on South Africa

Playing on the subcontinental tracks, South Africa displayed their might by winning every match in the group stage of the 1996 World Cup. Gary Kirsten’s 188* in the opening match against UAE at Rawalpindi remains the highest individual score for the nation in ODIs. In the quarterfinal, South Africa confronted West Indies at the National Stadium, Karachi. Brian Lara scored a breathtaking 111 from 94 balls to take the first innings total to 264/8. Roger Harper then punctured South African dreams with a four-wicket haul and West Indies won by 19 runs.

Tied and dispatched

The African nation continued its blazing run by once again topping the group stage in 1999 World Cup. South Africa’s only loss in the group stage came against Zimbabwe. Their only other loss of that World Cup was against Australia where Steve Waugh scored a century after being dropped by Herschelle Gibbs. Two teams met again in the semifinal. In one of the greatest ODIs ever, Lance Klusener’s three consecutive boundaries had brought the target down to 1 run from three balls. A misunderstanding between him and Allan Donald led to a runout, the match was tied. Australia progressed thanks to their win over South Africa in the Super Six stage.

Shattered dreams

Playing the World Cup on home soil in 2003, South Africa were jolted early by the loss of Jonty Rhodes due to an injury. Shaun Pollock’s men lost to West Indies and New Zealand in the group stage and needed a victory over Sri Lanka to qualify for the next stage. When the rain stopped that match, South Africa was one run short of the victory. The match was tied on D-L calculations and the hosts were knocked out from the group stage.

In the Caribbean World Cup of 2007, South Africa assembled a fabulous unit of players but they were not as consistent as before. They even conceded a loss to Bangladesh. In the semifinal, Australia shot them down for 149 runs and chased it down with seven wickets in hand. Four years later, South Africa entered the quarterfinal of the 2011 World Cup against New Zealand but lost by 49 runs as they crumbled under pressure.

The heart-break

South Africa had a tremendous squad coming into the 2015 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand. This was their golden generation of players with AB de Villiers, Dale Steyn, Faf du Plessis, Hashim Amla, Morne Morkel playing at their prime. They sailed past the group stage and annihilated Sri Lanka in the quarterfinal. Their semifinal clash against New Zealand was another epic encounter. It ended in tears for South Africa as New Zealand’s Grant Elliott smashed a six on the penultimate ball of the match.


With their best batsman AB de Villiers retired, South Africa is not leading into this World Cup as favorite. Lesser expectations may actually help South Africa to overcome their fear of capitulating in crunch situations.