South Africa return home to heroes' welcome
The returning South African cricket team were greeted by a large crowd of supporters at the OR Tambo International Airport in Johanesburg on Friday. Captain AB de Villiers and coach Russell Domingo arrived first to greet fans along with Dale Steyn, Faf du Plessis, JP Duminy, Vernon Philander and members of the management team.
The tears from Tuesday night’s last-over defeat will just have dried for members of the latest South Africa squad seen returning home with nothing to show despite being touted as World Cup favourites. However, this Proteas side has evidently won over the hearts of their fans by the bravery and passion exhibited by them – the desperate desire to win the tournament which has been historically unkind to them.
The team was met in Perth airport by two young girls who brought banners on which they had written in Afrikaans, "You are still heroes", and "Still proud."
Touching down in Johanesburg at 4 am, the players were in for an even bigger surprise.
"Give me a hug AB, I'm also sad," was one of the posters on display – to which De Villiers responded with a warm embrace. The players signed autographs and posed for pictures and fed off the cocoon of support they've been ensconced in since their tearful exit – the kind of support that turns up at airports at 4 in the morning.
"I was expecting some negativity from fans and the media but the messages we have received have made us feel like a bunch of winners just like our minister always says," De Villiers said.
South Africa’s Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula had asked the team not to return from the World Cup as ‘a bunch of losers’, but conceded in the warm press conference afterwards, "I don't know who Duck or Lewis is but we tried our best and lost."
Hope our effort inspires generations of cricketers: De Villiers
De Villiers said he had enjoyed the campaign to the fullest, and that he hoped his teams’ bravery might inspire generations of cricket players and enthusiasts, like he had been himself by events in the 1992 World Cup.
“I need some time away from the game, play with my dogs, play some golf, have a beer or two.
"There is not 1% doubt in my mind that every single member of the squad was there with 100% passion.
"We gave it our best. It's the main prize in my heart – to come back and see the difference we've made to the youngsters of South Africa. It's about performing in a way that inspires the next generations. For example, I didn't think of South Africa losing in the 1992 World Cup, I thought of Jonty Rhodes' run-out and things like that inspired me. Hopefully we have the same influence."