IN 320 matches covering 375 innings in an international career that is now into its tenth 10th year, AB de Villiers has been out stumped just nine times. Which is as it should be given his outrageously slick footwork and his bulletproof confidence at the crease.

But stumping No10 arrived in Auckland this week. The bowler was David Leggat, a seasoned denizen of the New Zealand Herald who has the priceless knack of asking questions as if they are part of a proper conversation held over a cup of good coffee in surrounds more pleasant than the sterile scenario of a press conference.

Like the best of spinners, Leggat disguised his fizzing googly brilliantly: “Can you give a sense of what it would mean for the team and the South African cricket community finally to win a World Cup after the history of what’s happened in past tournaments?”

Perhaps Leggat thought he had asked a simple question. Perhaps he knew exactly what he was doing. Perhaps De Villiers’s guard had been worn way down by sitting on a plane for the previous 16 or so hours.

Whichever it was, De Villiers was stranded as far out of his ground as Allan Donald in the awful moment that ended SA’s 1999 World Cup semifinal against Australia at Headingley.

“Yo, that’s difficult to answer,” De Villiers began. “We’re all very passionate people playing for this team and it’s a huge honour to represent our country. It would mean the world to us. It really would. I get quite emotional talking about it because it’s really close to my heart. I’ll do anything to win that World Cup in 2015.”

Part of the problem for SA is that the Springboks have already been there, done that. Twice. That the unhelpful example set by rugby was not far from De Villiers’s mind was revealed in his answer to a question about how he thought the New Zealanders might fare at the tournament.

Perhaps it wasn’t what De Villiers said but the way that he said it; carefully and deliberately as if he had asked himself the same question too many times.

Perhaps the answers he had received had scared him. Perhaps he meant what he said.

Perhaps the question cannot be answered. Not until you know...

Part of the problem for SA is that the Springboks have already been there, done that. Twice. That the unhelpful example set by rugby was not far from De Villiers’s mind was revealed in his answer to a question about how he thought the New Zealanders might fare at the tournament.

“They’ll have a lot of people right behind them and wanting them to do well. They haven’t won a World Cup, so they would also be desperate to do really well. If I was one of the All Blacks ... ag, listen — All Blacks; Richie McCaw and the boys!”

Richie McCaw and the boys, indeed. Not forgetting Francois Pienaar and the boys. And John Smit and the bloody boys.

“Damn them all,” De Villiers did not say. Perhaps he should have.

New Zealand will have a lot of people behind them year — 4.5-million. SA will have a few more — 53-million. Which, if you are one of SA’s players, colours Pienaar’s famous correction:  “We didn’t have the support of 63 000 South Africans today; we had the support of 42-million South Africans.”

All that support all dressed up, again, with no World Cup victory party to go to, again, would not go gently into that good night of Sunday March 29 2015 when the final will be played at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.

And if SA win the World Cup? Does the monkey disappear from their backs? Or does everything but the monkey disappear, including the passion that has fuelled cricket in this country since 1992?

Answers on a heartstring, please.

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