The number 15 is on everyone’s lips as Team South Africa gets ready to embark on another Commonwealth Games venture, writes GARY LEMKE in the Gold Coast.
This will be South Africa’s seventh Commonwealth Games since returning from international isolation at the 1994 event in Victoria, British Columbia. Then, the country encountered a rude awakening, winning two gold medals to place 12th on the overall table.
Since then, the graph has been on an upward trajectory, as one would expect from a country which can no longer claim to be greenhorns on the international stage. Four years later, in Kuala Lumpur, nine golds came home, the same as in 2002. In 2006 and 2010, that gold tally improved to 12 and then in Glasgow four years ago it increased to 13, but that was still only good enough for seventh overall.
Which is where the number 15 comes into the equation. That’s the projection for fifth spot, which Team SA has not only targeted, but expects. ‘Count me in for two golds,’ says Caster Semenya. ‘I’m down for four golds,’ says Chad le Clos. Nothing like leading by example from two global stars.
My personal Commonwealth Games journey started in 1994 where the only two golds won by South Africa came from lawn bowls, but the Games in general were quite low key and the tempo stepped up four years later in Kuala Lumpur. It might be 20 years ago but it feels like yesterday, and the team included future Princess of Monaco, Charlene Wittstock. There was also the debut of the SA Sevens squad, but the cricket is something we can be talking about today.
Especially given that these 2018 Games are being held in Australia.
The cricket final – the last time the sport was included in the Commonwealth Games – pitted Australia against South Africa in a 50 overs showdown. On one side we saw Mark Waugh, Adam Gilchrist, Ricky Ponting, Michael Bevan, Steve Waugh, Darren Lehmann, Tom Moody, Brad Young, Gavin Robinson, Michel Kasprowicz and Damien Fleming.
On the other, we had Andrew Hudson, Mike Rindel, Derek Crookes, Jacques Kallis, Herschelle Gibbs, Dale Benkenstein, Shaun Pollock, Mark Boucher, Nicky Boje, Paul Adams and Alan Dawson.
South Africa, coached by the late Bob Woolmer, won the toss and asked Australia to bat. Pollock was on fire, removing Waugh with the 10th ball he bowled, before he removed Ponting and Gilchrist and at 28-3 the Aussies were on the back foot.
Lehmann and Steve Waugh combined for a 63-run fifth wicket partnership before Pollock got Lehmann to edge behind to Boucher. The big man wasn’t happy, storming into the pre-fab, temporary dressing room and ‘re-arranging the furniture’, turning the air blue within earshot of those near enough to him. Waugh finished on an unbeaten 90 but Pollock’s 4-19 in nine overs had helped leave South Africa with a winning target of 194.
Rindel (67) and Kallis (44) helped South Africa reach their target to win by four wickets and 24 balls left. It was an upset result against the tournament favourites. Twenty years later and with ‘Sandpapergate’ still the only talking point in cricket right now, Lehmann must be sick of South Africa. They got under his skin in 1998 and his 2018 experience as coach of the current Australia side in South Africa has damaged his reputation.
It would be cruel to remind neutral Australia that South Africa’s cricketers have been the undoing of them, 20 years apart. But then again, why not remind them who the last winners of the Commonwealth Games cricketing gold medal are?