DURHAM – It was all a little too late in the end for South Africa.
The form they had been searching for throughout the World Cup finally arrived at Chester-le-Street in the north east, but unfortunately, it will not mean much in the greater scheme of things.
In fact, the Proteas’ nine-wicket win on Friday meant more for Sri Lanka – and in fact England – with regards to the semi-final permutations.
A Sri Lankan victory would have pushed Dimuth Karunaratne’s team firmly into the reckoning for a playoff spot, but instead, the defeat has now given hosts England breathing room of only needing one win from their last two matches.
Oh, how South Africa would love to still be involved in these types of conversations. Instead, all they have left to play for is their reputations and pride that have taken a severe beating over the past month.
It certainly helped that they faced a familiar foe on Friday.
South Africa have used Sri Lanka as a punching bag over the last 12 months, winning eight out of 10 ODIs against the former champions.
And they have also not been defeated in a World Cup contest by Sri Lanka since 1992.
They certainly never looked like losing at any point on Friday either, as they dismissed their opponents for 203, and chased down the runs in 37.2 overs.
Freed from the pressure of having to qualify, they got the ball rolling immediately when Kagiso Rabada delivered a first-ball snorter to Karunaratne, who could only manage to fend it off to Faf du Plessis in the slips.
South Africa never looked back from that stage. Dwaine Pretorius, recalled to the side for the off-colour Lungi Ngidi, certainly relished being back in the mix.
Pretorius (10-2-25-3) delivered a canny spell of medium-pace bowling from the Commentary Box End to finish with the most economical spell in this entire World Cup.
And with fellow all-rounder Chris Morris (3/46) maintaining his impressive form with the ball, the Proteas were not stretched in the field as they dismissed Sri Lanka for 203 within the allotted 50 overs.
Even the batting did not wobble, despite Quinton de Kock (15) being castled with a trademark Lasith Malinga toe-crusher early on.
Almost as if they were playing a bilateral series, South Africa’s senior batsmen found their groove in the glorious Durham sun with Hashim Amla and Du Plessis sharing an unbroken 175-run partnership for the second wicket.
Suddenly, Amla’s wrists were back to being silky and smooth as the veteran opener hauled out his trademark flick through mid-wicket with regularity.
He was equally confident lacing the ball through the covers off either front or back foot.
Du Plessis was equally velvety. Such was his confidence on the day, Du Plessis went waltzing down the wicket on occasion to punish the ball over the inner ring.
It was the type of shot Du Plessis was executing regularly prior to the World Cup.
And that was arguably the most frustrating aspect of Friday’s win.
Throughout the wretched run that had previously seen South Africa win just one from seven starts previously here in the United Kingdom, the consistent theme was that there remained a host of talented players in the Proteas dressing room.
That they proved on Friday.
Unfortunately, the emphatic truth of the matter is that they simply don’t know how to execute those skills under pressure, and therein lies the ugly truth.