Sydney: Russell Domingo was keeping track of time in his head, waiting for the inevitable reference to South Africa's failure to win a knockout match at the Cricket World Cup.
It's a record that has been universally — in cricket conversations — boiled down to one word: choking.
Domingo's South Africa lineup gets a chance to rectify that on Wednesday at the Sydney Cricket Ground against 1996 champion Sri Lanka, in the first of the World Cup quarterfinals.
At a news conference Monday, Domingo was up front about how his squad was coping with a past that could have a big impact on its future.
It started with the preface to a question: "I hate to bring this up ...."
Domingo finished it himself.
"Choking? Choking — there you go," he said, smiling. "It's taken four minutes — it's taken a long time."
So, after finishing the question, he went straight into the answer.
"It's been part of South African cricket for a period of time. Every time we get to these events it's going to be questioned. We've spoken about it, no doubt about it," he said. "We've faced up front that in the past, we have let opportunities slip by us.
"Hopefully, we'll have learned from the lessons that previous sides have made at events like that. By all means, we want to make sure that doesn't happen to us."
South Africa won four of its group stage games to finish second behind defending champion India in Pool B. There were some comprehensive wins, and two 400-plus totals, but losses to India and Pakistan were setbacks for a team that entered the tournament as a prime title contender — not for the first time.
"We're trying to really focus on things we've done well, not get caught up in things that have happened in the past," Domingo said. "South Africa find themselves in a tough situation that if they win all their games before the knockouts, people question them. If they don't win all their games before the knockouts, people question.
"We know we come with a clean slate — we come here knowing if we play to the best of our ability, we've got a good chance of winning on Wednesday."
South Africa's run of upset defeats started in 1992, when it rejoined the international sports community and played in the World Cup the only other time it was co-hosted by Australia and New Zealand. The South Africans were in control of their semifinal against England — the first of the knockout rounds at that tournament — until it started raining.
When they left the field, they needed 22 runs to win from 13 deliveries, certainly an achievable task. But due to rain regulations in play at the time, when the game restarted South Africa was given the impossible revised target of 21 from one ball to win. The outcome caused an uproar, leading eventually to a change in the rules for rain-affected games.
It proved to be the start of a tough run for the South Africans. At the next World Cup, in 1996, South Africa had won 10 consecutive one-day internationals heading into its quarterfinal against the West Indies, but lost by 19 runs in something of an upset.
In the next edition, in England in 1999, the South Africans were in control of a semifinal against Australia before a bizarre run out for the last wicket resulted in a tie — allowing the Australians to advance to a final that they ultimately won.
Domingo said his players were only too aware of the significance of the outcome on Wednesday.
"I honestly don't think you don't need to speak about it being a knockout game," he said. Our strategy is "not focus too much on the opposition, not focus too much on the occasion. When the pressure points come, really focus on our strategies, and our thinking, and what's made us successful over the last year."