They are the ultimate underachiever of ICC events, and other than a long-forgotten Champions Trophy title, they have literally nothing to show to justify their perpetual no. 1 contender status.
Who can forget the 1992 event, where on their comeback to World Cricket, South Africa ran through teams in the tournament only to be cruelly denied a shot at the title in a D&L joke against England in the semis? They could have very easily been the sporting success story of the century if they had won the event, but it was not to be. In 1996, they were knocked out by Brian Lara in the quarterfinals after winning all their group matches. 1999 saw their ultimate heartbreak, where the marauding Lance Klusener got them on level scores with eventual Champions Australia, only to see Donald get run out on the penultimate ball. Many cried for South Africa, the people’s champions, that day. Sooner or later, they had to win it. In 2003, they played the World Cup at Home, and suffered the most embarrassing exit of all. A simple reading error caused them to crash out at the first stage itself, after tying the game against Sri Lanka. Pollock was fired, the team rebuilt, and in 2007, they entered West Indies as joint favorites again. But they collapsed spectacularly to Australia in the semis, to confirm their ‘choking’ credentials in the big games. In 2011, they were outright favorites to win it after topping their group—and beating India on the way. However, they collapsed again to New Zealand while chasing 222, and crashed out in the quarters. Graeme Smith couldn’t believe it. Neither could we.
They have the best batsman on the planet, AB De Villiers. They have the run-machine Hashim Amla. They have Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel. They have JP Duminy and Faf. Can they still find a way to lose? You can’t put it past them, but surely, they need to have 3 good Knockout days in a row to win the event. With the format not changing since the 2011 World Cup, they could face a team like Sri Lanka in the quarters, and will have to face Australia to win the title. If AB De Villiers times his entrance in each of the games correctly, and not leave himself too late or too early, South Africa could be unbeatable. Fresh from the fastest ever ODI century, De Villiers will be the key, as will the performances of spinners Tahir and Phangiso.
X-Factor: De Kock (if fit)
Surprise selection: Behardien
And if they do reach the final, it will be unchartered territory. Could they become the only team to reach the final for the first time and win it? Yes, they can.