Hamilton: Hundreds of African fans thronged the Seddon Park stadium to watch South Africa play Zimbabwe in the opening Pool B game on Sunday, hoping and praying for the first African team to win the World Cup. No African team has won the World Cup since the launch of the 50-over event in 1975 with South Africa finishing as losing semi-finalists in 1992, 1999 and 2007 editions.
Minnows Kenya, who lost their one-day status last year, shocked everyone by becoming the only non-Test side to reach the semi-finals of the 2003 World Cup when the event was held on the African continent. Marcus Bhuvenkaga said he had been praying for South Africa's success.
"I am here to cheer South Africa," Bhuvenkaga told AFP outside the ground. "This is the best chance for South Africa to win the World Cup and shrug off the chokers' tag." Since their the semi-final tie in the 1999 World Cup (Australia going on to the final thanks to their group stage win), South Africa were infamously dubbed "chokers" -- a tag that stuck as they repeatedly spurned good chances at crucial stages of major events.
Since their re-admission the Proteas have only won one major International Cricket Council event, the Knockout Trophy (now Champions Trophy) in 1998. Some of the fans were holding South African flags and were chanting "Come on Proteas -- win this time" and carrying pictures of South African captain AB de Villiers. Bhuvenkaga is one of around 2,000 South Africans living in Hamilton and has become something of a Seddon Park regular.
"I am a teacher in a Hamilton school and whenever I get time I watch cricket," said Bhuvenkaga, who was also among the crowd who watched the one-day series between New Zealand and South Africa last year. Subrah Lalini Mazako, a student in Pretoria, had also come with her friends in a hope for South African win.
"We are a group of ten students who will follow the team, hopefully until March 29 final in Melbourne as we are sure that this is our World Cup," Mazako said. "Hamilton is a very vibrant, diverse and a beautiful city and we hope that it gives South Africa an ideal start," she explained.
Local organisers said all 10,000 tickets were sold, some of them on the morning of the match, and there were Zimbabwe, as well as South Africa, supporters among the Seddon Park crowd with Chispen Ndlovu travelling all the way from Bulawayo. "I am not very hopeful of a Zimbabwe win but hope that South Africa beat Australia in the final," said Ndlovu. "Australia look too strong but I pray that an African team wins this time."