Stellenbosch, South Africa, Mar 25: Led by unexpected praise from the nation's outspoken sports minister, South Africa went easy on its cricket team after another painful loss at the World Cup.
World Cup Special
A long history of failure at the tournament has often put the Proteas at the sharp end of stinging criticism from the demanding media and fans back home.
But sports minister Fikile Mbalula said he was still proud of the team after its nail-biting loss to New Zealand in the semifinals on Tuesday. Mbalula is famous for launching a scathing attack on South Africa's soccer team after a loss in a tournament last year, calling them "a bunch of losers" and "useless, unbearable individuals." He was kinder to the cricketers.
"You made us proud as a nation as you fought until the last minute," Mbalula said.
"You are winners in my eyes and I'm sure the whole nation agrees." Wednesday's newspapers reflected the players' bitter disappointment -- with some in tears after the elimination, but there was no mention of "chokers," the dreaded term previously given to the team for losing crucial World Cup games.
"World Cup tears" said the Afrikaans-language Die Burger newspaper with a photograph of fast bowler Dale Steyn lying flat out on his back on the pitch.
The Times called it "A crying shame," and the tabloid Daily Sun even called them "brave Proteas."
Most newspapers blamed South African bowling and fielding errors for allowing New Zealand to pass the victory target of 298, but a few alluded to a sense of injustice after South Africa's innings was interrupted by rain while going well, and then shortened, and its total recalculated according to cricket's complex Duckworth-Lewis formula.
South Africa coach Russell Domingo felt the total New Zealand was chasing should have been higher than 298, feeding some of the media's questions over the calculation.
South Africa has rarely been able to accept its World Cup eliminations as straightforward. In the 1992 semifinals it felt it was given an impossible task after rain led to a recalculation; in 1999 South Africa was eliminated in the semifinals on run rate after a tie with Australia; and in 2003 the team itself made a mistake with the formula and finished a run short of progressing.
Most newspapers noted with despair that Grant Elliott, the man who played the match-winning innings for New Zealand, was born in South Africa. He left for New Zealand after deciding he'd probably never make the South African team. "World Cup taunts SA once again," The Times said.