South Africa skipper Temba Bavuma
South Africa skipper Temba Bavuma Image Credit: REUTERS

New Delhi: South Africa take a winning momentum into their World Cup opener against Sri Lanka desperate to escape the tag of big-time chokers.

Since South Africa returned from the apartheid-era wilderness, their relationship with the tournament has been bittersweet at best, cursed at worst.

In 1992, they were handed a rain-revised and mathematically impossible target of 22 runs off one ball to defeat England in the semi-final.

Eleven years later, they misread the rain rules in a tied match with Sri Lanka and exited their own tournament.

At the 1999 event, they conjured defeat from certain victory in a farcical finish in their semi-final with Australia.

"I genuinely believe that we're not chokers," key batsman David Miller told ESPNcricinfo this week.

"How that tag affects people is an individual thing, but it's never, ever bothered me."

He added: "Obviously there's been history and there's been games that we've not played well in that have let us down. But I would never say the 'chokers' tag applies to us, although that's what everyone says."

Fortunately for South Africa, they should have arrived in India free of the baggage of self-destruction as seven members of the 15-man squad have never played in a World Cup.

That includes skipper Temba Bavuma who prefers to focus on the experience of the players in his squad with match-tough backgrounds in the Indian Premier League.

Quinton de Kock, who will retire from international cricket after the tournament, for example has thrived in India and in 2022 hit the third highest ever score in IPL history of 140 not out.

"A lot of the teams have guys who played in India, have done well in India," said Bavuma.

"I think all we could do is for the guys who have that experience and knowledge, they can share it among the team or use it in terms of our strategies and plans."

South Africa mounted a spectacular comeback to defeat Australia 3-2 in a five-match series at home last month from 2-0 down.

They lost to New Zealand in a World Cup warm-up at Thiruvananthapuram but De Kock starred with an unbeaten 84 while fast bowlers Lungi Ngidi and Marco Jansen took three wickets apiece.

Sri Lanka, the 1996 World Cup winners, had to come through qualifying to reach the tournament.

This year, they put together a 13-match winning streak but suffered two losses to India in the Asia Cup last month including in the final.

After being bowled out for just 50, they were thrashed by 10 wickets with India storming to the target in the sixth over.

"Everyone wants to make a statement, we are here to perform well in this tournament," insisted captain Danuka Shanaka whose team hasn't faced South Africa since 2021.

Sri Lanka lost both their World Cup warm-ups, to Afghanistan and Bangladesh.

However, in an encouraging sign, batsman Kusal Mendis smashed 158 against Afghanistan.