The legacy of what-ifs
THE next sentence may convince you that this column has been plucked from the archives to fill a space in the newspaper, but I assure you it has not. In little more than three weeks from now, the Proteas could find themselves in possession of ICC silverware.
Eight times since 1996 that line has been published. Every time, it has been a curse and not a prophecy.
It could be the same this time. But it will still be printed and uttered because, this time, just like all the other times, something different is expected of the current lot. It is not that they will win. That would be asking too much. It is that, if they have to exit the tournament before winning it, they will do so simply by losing and not by being noosed.
The strides they have made in mental fortitude should amount to at least that much.
At most, it will bring to a conclusion what may be remembered as the most golden period in the country's cricket and offer a fitting end to Johan Botha's international career. The shrewd spinner will set sail for South Australia once the World T20 is over, having asked to be released from his national contract to captain the Aussie team.
He will leave behind a legacy of what-ifs and a legend of tenacity.
What if Botha remained as T20 captain after the leadership role was given to him in August? He is the most successful national captain in that format. Under him, South Africa have won 73% of the T20 matches they have played, compared to 67% under Graeme Smith.
What if he had also succeeded Smith as ODI captain, as speculation suggested at the time? Although Botha only skippered South Africa in 10 ODIs, they won eight of them, including home and away series against Australia.
That he knows how to rally the troops is unquestionable.
That he enjoyed it is even more so. Botha blossomed as a leader, using his already existing ability to control portions of the game and expanding it to control a team as well. But that was taken away from him in June when AB de Villiers was put in charge and Botha found himself on the fringes of a team he was once the core of.
Botha remains available for selection, but it is difficult to see how he will find his way back into a South African XI once the World T20 is over.
Robin Peterson has come into his own with the confidence shown in him. He was picked ahead of Botha for the most irrelevant of all the irrelevant one-day contests against England and was the leading wicket-taker. He is now a proved performer in both shorter versions of the game and his value to the side is evident.
Peterson's presence and Botha's commitment elsewhere mean he knows the World T20 could be his last outing for South Africa. To end with a trophy would ensure that he writes himself into the country's cricket archives just before he becomes one of those who got away.