SA aims to break jinx, hopes to exorcise ghost of hosts
Published: Saturday, February 8, 2003, 23:53 [IST]
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Cape Town: Shaun Pollock's South Africa begin its World Cup campaign on Sunday aiming to break the jinx that has never seen the host nation win the title. The pressure of playing before home crowds obviously took its toll in the previous seven editions of cricket's greatest event, but Pollock hopes it will be different this time. "I know we carry the whole nation's expectations but we must not be haunted by the fact that no host has ever lifted the cup," Pollock said ahead of Sunday's opener against the West Indies. "If we play up to potential we could be the first. "We don't underestimate our opponents and in recent months the West Indies has played good cricket but I hope the boys will be right up there at the start." England hosted the first three World Cups, its best finish being the runners-up spot in 1979 when it lost to the West Indies in the final. When Asian rivals India and Pakistan co-hosted the next tournament in 1983, it bowed out in the semi-finals. Australia won the title in India in 1987 and Pakistan followed suit when the next edition was held in Australia and New Zealand four years later. Sri Lanka beat the world when the tournament returned to the Indian sub-continent in 1996, but strictly speaking Ranatunga's men played the final in Pakistan, not at home in Colombo. England, which hosted the last edition in 1999, was knocked out in the preliminary round itself. "The pressure of being the host is always enormous and it tends to be a problem throughout the event," said Imran Khan, Pakistan's World Cup winning captain in 1992. Former South African captain Kepler Wessels is, however, confident the "ghost of the host" will not haunt Pollock's men. "Under that kind of pressure you can get tentative, but South Africa has the best combination in the tournament and that is not going to happen," Wessels said. The Proteas have the example of their rugby team to encourage them - Francois Pienaar's men won the rugby World Cup which South Africa hosted. Former South African all-rounder Pat Symcox is confident South Africa is brave enough not to succumb. "You have to be brave and the players we have picked are those kind of players, and we hope the pressure of being the hosts will not affect their performance," said Symcox. India's captain Saurav Ganguly, however, gives little importance to history. "History does not matter when you go out there. It all boils down to how well you play on that particular day," he said. Veteran Pakistani Wasim Akram, preparing for his fifth World Cup, believes winning the first game will be crucial for South Africa. "If they don't win I will feel the ghost of hosts has bitten them from the start."