Sydney: Another World Cup semi-final but another failure to get to the final has left many South Africa fans questioning what their side must do to reach one-day international cricket`s showpiece match.
Tuesday`s dramatic four-wicket defeat by New Zealand in a rain-affected clash at Auckland`s Eden Park was the fourth time the Proteas had made it to the last four -- and the fourth time they hadn`t reached the final.
In 1992 they were undone by the unfairness of the rain rule then in force which left them needing an impossible 21 off one ball to beat England, while in 2007 they were swept aside by Australia.
However, Tuesday`s clash had echoes of South Africa`s 1999 tie with Australia -- a result that saw the Australians into the final on superior net run-rate -- in that the Proteas squandered chances to win the game.
But this time around a selection decision may have hampered South Africa even before the match started.
Fast bowler Kyle Abbott, who took an excellent one for 27 off a tight six overs during the quarter-final victory over Sri Lanka, was dropped to make way for Vernon Philander -- who missed several matches including the last eight clash this World Cup with a hamstring injury.
Philander`s first over was savaged for 14 runs by New Zealand captain Brendon McCullum and he was taken out of the attack, with none of his eight overs on Tuesday producing a wicket.
"You`ve got an in form bowler (Abbott) who`s got bounce and he`s got pace and has bowled so well in the last couple of days. You`ve got to be so brave to change that bowling line-up," former South Africa spinner Pat Symcox told local radio.Dale Steyn is widely acknowledged as the best fast bowler of his generation, his Test average of just over 22 runs per wicket placing him among cricket`s all-time greats.
But a return off 11 wickets in eight matches at this World Cup was modest for a man of his class and on Tuesday his 8.5 overs cost an expensive 76 runs.
Steyn also needed lengthy treatment for a leg problem during the final over, and this was a further setback for a South Africa side who throughout the tournament, had to `fiddle` 10 overs from a fifth bowler -- reviving a longstanding criticism they had been excessively cautious in selecting an extra batsman rather than an additional bowler.
The Proteas may well have made a 350-plus score had not rain intervened, but a total of 281 for five, which left New Zealand needing a revised 298 in 43 overs, looked enough when the Black Caps were 149 for four.
Yet it was from then on that the worth of England 2003 Rugby World Cup-winning coach Clive Woodward`s oft-repeated phrase of `T-CUP` (Thinking Clearly Under Pressure) became apparent, with captain AB de Villiers fumbling a run-out of Corey Anderson and Grant Elliott benefitting from another failed run out attempt and a dropped catch.
Anderson (58) helped Elliott added 103 for the fifth wicket before the South Africa-born Elliott, raising his game, completed a match-winning 84 not out.
"I didn`t take that (run-out chance) unfortunately, but yes if you want to see it that way that I cost us then I`ll gladly take it," said a distraught de Villiers.
Former South Africa captain Graeme Smith, writing on the ICC`s website, said: "The Proteas missed the half-chances that counted and it ultimately cost them.
"Most tellingly they seemed to deviate from their pre-planned bowling strategy to McCullum by bowling poor lengths which allowed him to dictate the pace of the game," he added.
Inevitably, South Africa`s latest World Cup loss will revive accusations of "choking", yet in recent years they have won Tests from improbable positions against sides as good as Australia -- not the act of a bunch of mentally weak players.
However, blows often come thick and fast in the one-day game, with the fall-out from this latest loss leaving South Africa with four more years of World Cup hurt.