When South Africa first featured in a World Cup, in 1992, they had only played three one-day matches. By the time they played in their sixth tournament, in 2011, they had participated in 452 ODIs. In the 19 intervening years, South Africa were often one of the strongest sides around. They won almost twice as much as they lost, plucked series victories home and abroad, and produced players good enough to occupy top spots on international rankings for extended periods. But they did not have the one thing they wanted most – a major tournament trophy.
Since the 2011 World Cup, South Africa’s Test side has reached the summit and has had to come to grips with major changes, including the departure of Gary Kirsten, the coach who took India to the World Cup title, and the retirement of stalwarts Mark Boucher, Jacques Kallis, and Graeme Smith. Other teams may have been blown away by such change but South Africa only stuttered a touch before they emerged stronger. They retained their form in the longest format and developed their limited-over teams.
Their new captain, AB de Villiers, and coach, Russell Domingo, have moulded the team by holding on to the best parts – consistency, hunger and a collection of quality cricketers – and added calmness. For the first time, South Africa’s World Cup build-up has not focused on this tournament as the be-all and end-all, but has been seen as a step along the way. If it just happens to be that final step, nobody will complain.