Edgbaston: SA’s dirty word (or is it?)

Hashim Amla (Getty Images)
Hashim Amla (Getty Images)

Birmingham – Klusener & Donald … do you almost instantly, and in reflex manner, still think those words whenever you hear “Edgbaston” boom out?

The infamous, World Cup 1999-exiting miscommunication at the crease between the two against arch-rivals Australia will defiantly linger as one of the less desirable flashpoints of South African cricket history.

That semi-final is etched in broad cricketing folklore at the venue, as the game is still considered one of the most compelling and dramatic one-day internationals ever witnessed.

I was at it, and vividly recall the prematurely resigned handshake and “good on yer, mate” I received from an Aussie co-scribe … seconds before Lance Klusener, who had already belted 31 off 15 balls and commanded strike with one lousy run needed and three balls remaining, somehow conspired with Allan Donald to gift Steve Waugh’s team a decisive run-out.

So the fixture was tied, but with the Australians advancing to the final at Lord’s – won with consummate ease on a bleak London day against lacklustre Pakistan – courtesy of a higher-placed finish in the Super Six phase.

“No,” I felt compelled in the interests of bilateral sportsmanship to correct my new-found Aussie friend through gritted teeth, “it’s actually good on you”.

“Zulu” Klusener wore a fittingly funereal dark suit a few days later as he still collected the player-of-the-tournament award - an ordeal many might have considered worse than the proverbial kissing of your sister - on the balcony at the showpiece.

That Edgbaston nerve-destroyer was described by The Wisden Almanack, hardly renowned for its reckless exaggeration, as “not merely the match of the tournament: it must have been the best one-day international of the 1,483 played so far”.

We had clicked well onward to ODI No 3,879 when Australia locked horns with Bangladesh in the ICC Champions Trophy at The Oval on Monday, with the Proteas (in ODI 2,349 on March 12, 2006) at least able to boast altogether happier and more productive participation in a notable subsequent classic, the “438 game” at the Wanderers.

It might be reasonable to expect South Africa to rather dread playing at Edgbaston following the unforgettable events of ’99, but the truth in statistical terms is that they clearly haven’t found it an enduringly hoodoo-laden sort of place subsequently.

For one thing, every player they will put out against Pakistan here on Wednesday – a game which should clinch a Champs semi-final ticket if they win it – is mentally untainted by the CWC semi of 1999.

The lone super-veteran in their squad who might have had an age-related shout at playing that World Cup, now 38-year-old Imran Tahir, only became a South African citizen, and soon afterwards a first-time international player, in 2010/11.

And if anything, Edgbaston has been quite kind to the Proteas, post-1999.

They have won two of three ODIs there since, including seeing off the very Pakistanis also in group play at the last Champions Trophy of 2013.

Survivors in the current SA ranks from that comfortable 67-run triumph include Hashim Amla, who notched 81 and the player-of-the-match award, Faf du Plessis, AB de Villiers, David Miller, JP Duminy and Chris Morris.

Overall, South Africa have played seven ODIs at Edgbaston, won four, tied one and lost two.

The post-isolation Test picture there isn’t too shabby, either.

Of the three clashes against England at Edgbaston since return from exile in 1992, South Africa have won one and drawn the other two.

The victory is also from their most recent Test at the ground, in 2008, when captain Graeme Smith – at the ongoing Champs Trophy on television commentary duty and still cutting a statuesque presence – led an inspired fourth-innings charge to a target of 281 with his BMT-filled 154 not out to seal the four-Test series with one still to play.

South Africa’s only two defeats in a total of six Test appearances at Edgbaston are very much from the mists of time: 1924 and 1960.

Jinxed place for South Africa? It somehow seems a question with several possible answers.

Maybe I’ll leave you to decide …

*Rob Houwing is attending the Champions Trophy for Sport24. Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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