It’s been tough, it’s been lean and it’s been slippery. Riots in Parliament (what next?), economic woes, power cuts, Oscar Pistorius and Shrien Dewani—2014 has had it all.
But even amid the gloom, hope triumphs in the human breast. And where else could that hope be better expressed than in the one thing that unites our nation: sport?
Did our sportsmen and women come to the party? Uhm, is a rugby ball oval-shaped? Of course they did—and then some.
Here are a few of the highlights; the achievements and moments that made us proud to be South Africans.
Proteas tour to Sri Lanka
The Proteas have had a pretty good year across all formats in 2014, but the Test and ODI series victory in Sri Lanka has to top the charts—even though we did beat Australia in the triangular series final in Zimbabwe as well.
Sri Lanka has notoriously been a poor place to visit for the Proteas. Before 2014, they had never won an ODI series there, and only had the one Test series victory, back in 1993, to talk about.
In 2013 the Proteas made the trip to Sri Lanka for a five match ODI series and got hammered 4-1, and soon after that lost two of their most consistent performers over the last decade in Jacques Kallis (end of 2013) and Graeme Smith (beginning of 2014).
Many expected the Proteas to receive another pasting, at least in the ODIs, by a strong Sri Lankan team. Much to the surprise of the prophets of doom, however, the Proteas won the first ODI in convincing fashion. But once reality hit in the second ODI, doubts made their way back into supporters’ minds. Fortunately for both the team and its supporters, the new revelation in South African cricket, Quinton de Kock, aided in no small measure by AB de Villiers himself, stood up to be counted and put the visitors in a great position.
Sri Lanka failed to chase down the 339 run total and South Africa went into the test series with momentum and a first ever ODI series victory on Sri Lankan soil.
Confidence is key in any sport and so it proved for the Proteas. After winning the toss and electing to bat, Dean Elgar and JP Duminy proved their new captain, Hashim Amla, correct in choosing to bat first as the two of them went on to score 100s.
This proved a mountain too high for the hosts as Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel took nine and wickets respectively over two innings to win the match for the Proteas. In between the Proteas batted a second time and put on some quick runs.
The second and final test saw Sri Lanka dominate from start to finish. Much like South Africa in the first test, they got a big first innings score and then dismissed the Proteas reasonably cheaply. After Sri Lanka batted for the second time, they set the Proteas a target of 368 to win and 111 overs to bat out.
After the flamboyant win in the ODI series and the comfortable nature of the first test victory, it was time for the Proteas to show their steel and knuckle down, much like they had in Adelaide in 2012.
Day five in Sri Lanka is never easy to bat, but every South African batsman that came in put his best food forward. Not in terms of scores but rather in terms of balls faced.
The determination for victory was clear in the set-up. Everyone did their part and eventually it came down to Imran Tahir and Vernon Philander seeing out the final few overs—which they did successfully.
This was also Amla’s first test series as captain —he could not have asked for a better start. The Proteas, for their grit, determination and “history breaking” tour, make our list at number five.
Bafana Bafana’s qualification for AFCON 2015
It didn’t look like things were going to get much better for Bafana Bafana after Gordon Igesund’s contract was not renewed a few months ago. SAFA came under massive criticism for not retaining him and rather appointing new coach, Shakes Mashaba.
However, in sport, things can change, and fortunes can turn very, very quickly. In Bafana Bafana’s case, it has…fortunately.
Drawn in a pretty tough group, confidence was not at an all time high among supporters.
The campaign got off to a winning start as Mashaba masterminded an away victory over Sudan before returning home for a goalless draw against African champions, Nigeria.
This was followed with yet another away win against Congo before another goalless draw against the same opposition in South Africa.
Bafana Bafana then confirmed qualification with victory over Sudan with a game to spare. (At the time of writing the game against Nigeria had yet to take place).
Shakes Mashaba, despite all the criticism with his appointment, produced the goods for the South African public.
He put a team together in a short space of time and showed his willingness to give young players a chance in the national set-up—the team, with one game left to play, had also only conceded once throughout their qualifying campaign.
The two away wins against Sudan and Congo are definitely the highlights of qualification. Bafana Bafana does not have a very good away record in Africa, so two victories outside the country is a great achievement.
Raven Klaasen makes Australian Open final
It has been a long while since South Africa had a representative in a Grand Slam final. While Kevin Anderson is currently doing well and holds a single ranking within the top 20, he has yet to win or make a final at a Grand Slam.
The last South African to win a Grand Slam was Kevin Curren. He never managed to get over the line in the singles game, but he ended with four Grand Slam doubles titles.
Earlier this year another South African threatened and ultimately fell at the last hurdle. Raven Klaasen, along with partner, Eric Butorac, reached the Australian Open doubles final in 2014. On their way to the final they also knocked out the world number one ranked team, twin brothers, Bob and Mike Bryan.
The run to the Australian Open fianl helped Klaasen and Butorac achieve a career high ranking within the top 20 of the world.
After defeat, Klaasen thanked the South African public, media and everyone "back home" for their support. A promise of more to come followed shortly after. A deserved number three position for Klaasen and we hope 2015 can produce similar results.
After a disappointing 33 medals in the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi, the South African team was under pressure to perform at this year’s event. And they did.
The South African team returned from Glasgow with 40 medals—13 gold, 10 silver and 17 bronze. These medals were achieved across numerous sporting codes including lawn bowls, 7’s rugby, track and field.
However, it is in the swimming pool where South Africa once again pulled out the most medals, with Chad le Clos winning seven, two gold, one silver and four bronze.
In the track and field events Khotso Mokoena won gold in the men’s triple jump while Cornel Fredericks took gold in the 400m hurdles event. Paralympian Fanie van der Merwe also impressed with a first placed finish in the men’s 100m T37 final.
There were many other highlights throughout the games for South Africa and for this reason the entire team takes a well-deserved second place for their feats.
Springboks beat All Blacks at Ellis Park
It wasn’t a World Cup final, or even a World Cup game. In fact, a few will say the game was meaningless.
But they would be wrong. When the Springboks welcomed the All Blacks to Ellis Park for the final game of the 2014 edition of the Rugby Championship, the title was already in the All Blacks’ hands.
After drawing with Australia and then beating the same opposition, followed by victory over Argentina twice and the Springboks in New Zealand, the All Blacks had done enough to win the tournament with a game to spare.
However, as any rugby lover will tell you, when the Springboks and All Blacks meet there need not be a cup at stake.
Because of our history, pride is enough for these two rugby-loving nations and there will never be a quarter given.
The buildup to the game was intense. The Springboks had not beaten their arch rivals since their victory in Port Elizabeth in 2011 shortly before the World Cup. Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer had this one last box to tick.
Meyer was appointed early in 2012 and since then he has boasted the second highest win percentage of any Springbok coach, after the late Kitch Christie who had a 100% record.
While Meyer’s record was impressive,
he had yet to beat the All Blacks in this his third year.
To say he alone was at fault would be a mistake, but it was a monkey he needed to get off his back this year.
The game in New Zealand was narrowly lost by the Boks and this lent itself to a cracker at Ellis Park.
Almost exactly a year before, these two had produced one of the best test matches in recent years, but unfortunately the All Blacks again came out on top; 2014 was to be different. We all know how it went from there. Handre Pollard produced a stellar performance in the first half, scoring two tries with Francois Hougaard scoring another. After having a comfortable lead at the break the All Blacks were given a sniff; they took advantage in the second stanza and eventually took a one point lead.
But the Boks were desperate for victory and their character showed through. Clearly out on their feet, the team scrapped and eventually won a penalty, 55m out.
Reserve fly-half Pat Lambie stepped up and nailed the penalty to send Ellis Park, and indeed the rest of the country, into a state
In the end, it was just a victory; no trophy, just the satisfaction of knowing it can be done.
As Jean de Villiers put it afterwards, “We needed this win; we knew it could be done, but now the guys will really believe.”
This victory takes top spot as the leading sporting moment for South Africa in 2014.
There were other notable achievements on the South African sporting calendar for in 2014. A special mention needs to go to the South African U/19 cricket team that won the World Cup in the UAE earlier this year. We are already seeing some of the star performers on the provincial scene which bodes well for our future.
Staying with cricket, another mention should go to young Proteas wicketkeeper/batsman, Quinton de Kock, who scored three successive centuries against India and also became the joint fastest ODI batsman to 1 000 runs.
On the rugby front, Western Province deserves a mention for their second Currie Cup victory in three seasons, while Mamelodi Sundowns won their first PSL title eight years.
Next year promises to be an absolute humdinger on the sporting front for South Africa. The
main highlights are likely to be the cricket and rugby World Cups, hosted in Australia and England, respectively.
Can South Africa come up trumps in both tournaments? Time will tell, but until then, congratulations to all those who achieved this year, and with more sport over the festive season, we trust our South African compatriots will continue to shine.
Senzo Meyiwa (1987–2014)
Another young life taken by a pointless act of violence—this time it was the life of Bafana Bafana and Orlando Pirates captain, Senzo Meyiwa.
Crime claims so many lives on a daily basis in South Africa, and while no life is more important than the next, the death of Meyiwa sent shockwaves not only throughout South Africa, but the entire footballing world.
His climb to the top was an inspirational one. He came through the ranks at Pirates and waited for his opportunity, and when it arrived he took it with both hands—literally.
Leadership would like to pay tribute to this remarkable young leader and we send our condolences to his family, friends and teammates.
The lasting image we will have of Meyiwa will be the smile that seldom left his face.
A shining star has fallen, but he will never be forgotten.
Senzo, to you we say, hamba kahle mholi weqembu lesizwe sethu, ndodana yeNingizimu Africa. Uphumule ngokuthula.