25 March 2015
South Africa CWC15 wrap
Belief, hunger and a desire to make their nation proud were the calling cards of South Africa
With a line-up bursting with talent, South Africa was one of the title favourites - but fell short in a thrilling semi-final at Eden Park.
There is plenty to like about the South Africa team, from their catchy #ProteaFire call to arms, to their serious ability to entertain with both bat and ball, to the obviously close bond between players. Through the tournament, de Villiers never wasted an opportunity to talk up his team.
With a line-up bursting with talent, it began the tournament as one of the title favourites. It played like a champion team in the league stages – barring the losses to India and Pakistan – but fell agonisingly short in a thrilling semi-final at Eden Park.
With five runs to defend in the last two balls against New Zealand on Tuesday (March 24), Dale Steyn bowled one in the slot of Grant Elliott, who dispatched the ball over the long-on fence, leaving the entire South African camp distraught.
AB de Villiers, the captain, was crestfallen after the loss, but insisted his side would leave with "no regrets".
"We were trying everything. I'm proud of the guys the way we fought in every single game right till the death," he said.
South Africa’s history of ending on the wrong side of must-win World Cup matches is well documented. It put that to rest, however, with a comprehensive show against Sri Lanka in the quarter-final to win its first World Cup knockout game. The victory was engineered by JP Duminy’s hat-trick and Imran Tahir’s three-wicket haul, as the opposition was bundled out for 133. Then, the target was comfortably chased down for the loss of just one wicket.
Therefore, to say that the nerves came back to haunt the team in the semi-final would be unfair. In fact, South Africa has learnt to put the ‘chokers’ tag behind it. “We don't mind that too much. I've gone through the whole package of feeling emotional about it, fighting against it, then accepting it, then fighting again,” de Villiers said before Tuesday’s semi-final, when asked specifically about the unflattering tag.
Even in defeat, South Africa stood for a brand of entertaining cricket it played throughout the tournament. That onslaught by David Miller in the death overs against New Zealand was as good as any. The batsmen had a splendid time as South Africa became the first team ever to post two consecutive totals of 400 or more in ODIs.
Earlier in the tournament, after a victory over Zimbabwe to start things off, South Africa struggled against India in its second outing. The run chase – an area the Proteas have been known to struggle in – was its undoing, with the batsmen crumbling to a 130-run loss. Good wins against West Indies and Ireland followed, before a rain-affected encounter with an unpredictable Pakistan at Eden Park. Again, the run chase caused problems.
In many ways, the game against Pakistan was a big moment for South Africa in the tournament. Having almost already assured itself of a place in the last eight, it faltered in a chase of 232 in yet another weather-affected game. Barring de Villiers’s valiant 77, none of the batsmen stood up to the cause, and the captain was furious after the 29-run defeat.
De Villiers went on record to say that his boys may “not be as good as we think we are” and were “not prepared to fight it out”. Such comments in the media galvanised the entire unit once again and the intent was clearly on show in the quarter-final against Sri Lanka.
On the whole, it was a campaign that featured several highlights.
De Villiers led by example, best exemplified by his swashbuckling century against the West Indies. He came to the crease in the 30th over, and just took off. His calculated assault on Jason Holder was of the highest quality as he made the fastest 150 in ODIs.
His unbeaten 162 in 103 balls took South Africa to 408 for 5. In the very next game against Ireland, Hashim Amla and du Plessis made 159 and 109 respectively, as South Africa made 411 for 4.
Earlier, Amla also became the fastest man to 20 ODI tons in Canberra, while Miller and JP Duminy also scored tons in the tournament. And, as always, the Proteas catching was almost always on point, with Dale Steyn, Rilee Rossouw and de Villiers producing some of the catches of the tournament.
The bowling of Morne Morkel and Imran Tahir was a revelation throughout. Tahir had 15 wickets with an average of 21.53, but more importantly, offered South Africa the much-needed variety and slowed things down whenever there was a requirement to do so. It was his maiden over when New Zealand was 71 for no loss in five overs in the semi-final that brought South Africa back into the game.
Similarly, Morkel was incisive. He picked up at least a wicket in each of South Africa’s eight games and ended as the team’s best bowler with 17 victims against his name. He was at his best in the semi-final loss when he returned figures of 3 for 59.
“You need a little luck. You need things to go for you. You need to take your opportunities,” said Russell Domingo, South Africa’s coach explaining what better his team could have done to qualify for the final. “I'm so very proud of the effort they put in and the emotions that they left on the field. It's testament to how much it means playing and how much trying to win a World Cup means for them.”
De Villiers, Amla, Morkel, Steyn and Du Plessis – who have all played in two or more World Cups – have to wait for another four years to realise a collective dream. While the World Cup they hungered for will not be coming home with the Proteas in 2015, they gave their fans plenty to be proud of.