Let the mind games begin. Paralysed by a generation of failure, South Africa is attempting to get on the front foot – at least mentally – as it prepares to meet old nemesis Australia in Thursday's World Cup semi-final in Kolkata.
The Proteas have endured decades of pain at T20 and ODI World Cups, kick-started by Australia's remarkable double escape in two crucial games at the 1999 World Cup in England. South Africa has never won a major white-ball trophy and their fans fear the in-form Aussies, five-time champions, are about to add to the history of misery.
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An opinion piece in South Africa's Mail and Guardian summed up the mood back home. "The Proteas have the wrong name. They should really be called 'The Heartbreakers'," it read.
"Once there (at the knockout stage), they will behave in exactly the same way. We know it in our bones. During the World Cup in India they have tweaked the theme, taking far longer to break our long-suffering hearts than they usually do.
"It is semi-final time - South Africa have never progressed beyond the semi-final stage in a World Cup - and so the moment of heartbreak is upon their fans. How well we know this story."
South Africa full of confidence ahead of World Cup semi-final
The mood inside the Proteas camp is a lot more positive, with the side drawing confidence from a recent ODI series win over Australia on top of a resounding victory in the early stages of the World Cup. Pat Cummins' men have gone on a seven-match winning streak since that loss and appear to be peaking at the right time.
In Glenn Maxwell and Mitch Marsh, they have two of the tournament's most explosive and in-form batsmen. South Africa's bowling coach Eric Simons indicated man-of-the-moment Maxwell won't be given the same latitude he was afforded by Afghanistan during his remarkable double century blitzkrieg.
"You’ve got to use the situation as best you possibly can. I think the tactics they (Afghanistan) bowled to him probably suited him, just the way he was playing,” Simons said.
"I think you’ve got to assess the situation. One of the things you’ve always got control over is the tactics and field placings you use, and I think our field placings and tactics would have been different and that’s where we would focus. But obviously you can’t take away from an incredible knock and I think that’s one which is going to be spoken about for many, many years."
Asked about Australia's "mental hold" over South Africa in big games, Simons responded: "We learnt an enormous amount about ourselves in the series against Australia in South Africa, when they came as hard as they did at us. We have specific tactics about who we want to bowl to which batter, how we want to bowl and manage that."
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