While Faf du Plessis said that his Proteas threw themselves around in the field, they were ultimately 20 runs short in their four-wicket defeat to New Zealand at Edgbaston on Wednesday night.
Barring some sort of miracle, the South Africans were knocked out of the Cricket World Cup after another below-par batting performance saw them reach just 241/6 in their reduced 49 overs due to an earlier rain delay.
Hashim Amla scored a vital 55, but he lacked support at the top of the order as Quinton de Kock (5) and captain Du Plessis (23) lost their wickets at the wrong times.
Aiden Markram again got off to a good start, but gave his wicket away on 38.
Rassie van der Dussen played some wonderful shots to take the Proteas to beyond the 240 mark, but it was never going to be enough against a well-oiled Black Caps outfit.
Skipper Kane Williamson scored a superb 106 not out, and he had an ideal lieutenant in Colin de Grandhomme, who pulled off some stunning shots in a whirlwind 60 off 47 balls.
“We were aiming at 260. I thought 260 is par on this wicket. We said 270 would be a great score, so the chat in the team was to try and aim at 260-270,” Du Plessis said in the post-match TV interview.
“So, I felt we were 20 short. Good bowling, and not being able to get a few boundaries away. I think 260 would’ve probably been a really good score on this wicket.
“The individual batters will look at having an opportunity to face a bowler that they feel they can fancy on that day. Kane showed exactly what to do – he also found it really tricky to score, but he waited for one guy, or a little period where he attacked.
“And the difference is one guy getting a hundred. It obviously makes it a little easier for the rest of the batters.
“We had a lot of stop-start, stop-start, stop-start, and that takes the extra 20 runs off the score.”
Du Plessis felt that his team made a good fist of defending the paltry 242-run target, but the South Africans also missed a few run-out chances.
Perhaps the most critical part came when Williamson edged Imran Tahir to Quinton de Kock – while Tahir went up, the wicket-keeper didn’t think it was out, and the Proteas failed to refer the incident to the TV umpire.
“I thought we threw ourselves around. We challenged, we fought, everything we tried – as I said, great work from our bowlers. The fielding, the energy was unbelievable,” Du Plessis said.
“Here and there perhaps a soft ball, especially towards the last five or six overs. But also the innings that Kane played, a 100 off 130 balls, taking his team home, was too good for us on the day.
“There was no real appeal (against Williamson), and I’m standing at long-on. And there was no real ‘Let’s have a look at it’.
“That’s all we can do, all we can control (doing well in the final three games). Performances have not been there. Individually, we would’ve like to take more responsibility to put on performances that can drive the team home, but it hasn’t been there.
“But we are fighting as a team, I think we saw that today. There was a lot of that right until the end and tried to compete and get the W for us, but it was not meant to be.”
The next Proteas match is against Pakistan on Sunday at Lord’s in London (11.30am SA time start).