LONDON – The inevitable finally happened on Sunday. South Africa have been officially knocked out of the World Cup.
There are no more mathematical equations to consider. The cold truth is that it is all over, and there is no way back. The latest embarrassment in this miserable campaign was a 49–run defeat to Pakistan.
The fact that it all ultimately came crashing down at Lord’s – the spiritual home of the game – was even more galling. The legendary “Father Time”, situated between the Tavern and Mount Stands, must have looked down in disgust at how a once-proud Proteas team has allowed itself to plummet to such depths of despair.
In Birmingham, against New Zealand, there was at least some fight. There was energy, commitment and a genuine desire.
On Sunday, the team in yellow – South Africa’s change strip – were simply flat. All the pre-match promises of playing for pride, the badge, and all that was just a load of hot air. Only one team pitched up at the races on the day.
With that loss, South Africa are out of #CWC19 semi-final contention.— Cricket World Cup (@cricketworldcup) June 23, 2019
Pakistan, meanwhile, move up to No.7. Their knockout hopes are very much alive.
Latest standings ⬇️ #WeHaveWeWill | #PAKvSA pic.twitter.com/WmoHhzvdCN
The most exasperating fact is that Pakistan are actually not very good either. Coach Mickey Arthur was his excitable self on the Lord’s balcony, gesturing after every dropped catch – and there were numerous – and their batsmen also don’t convert promising starts into centuries, but within each player beats the heart of a lion coupled with an attitude that refuses to wilt.
It should then not be surprising that the only South African able to replicate this passion hails from Lahore. Imran Tahir was born for the big stage, and there isn’t much bigger than Lord’s bursting at its seams with boisterous Pakistani fans.
Tahir is the oldest player at the World Cup, playing in his third global event, but it could be easily be his first such was the passion on display. More importantly, he also backs it up with skill when the lights are at its brightest.
The rookies within this Proteas team would do well to absorb as much as they can from the veteran over the remaining fortnight here at the World Cup.
But even Tahir cannot do everything on his own. He needed support from his fellow bowlers, but unfortunately they never responded with openers Imam-ul-Haq and Fakhar Zaman both scoring 44, before Babar Azam (69) and Harris Sohail (89) took the game away from the Proteas at the back-end.
Considering the Proteas’ batting has actually been their Achilles Heel at this World Cup, the required 309 runs were always going to be as steep as the slope at this storied old ground.
There was a slim chance when Quinton de Kock (47) and captain Faf du Plessis (63) were together in the middle. But it would only have been the most blindly devoted that would have believed that the target was actually within reach for the Proteas’ familiar script at this World Cup soon played.
Predicatably, De Kock fell to a wild swipe in the deep after being well set, while Du Plessis top-edged one into the heavens when attempting to put his foot down on the accelerator. It was like watching a horror movie on repeat.
To Pakistan’s credit, they squeezed the Proteas when they needed to. And every time South Africa came up for the air, they pounced with another wicket through the brilliance of Shadab Khan’s (3/50) leg-spin and Wahab Riaz’s (3/46) deathly yorkers.
The duo’s devastation ensured their team, and its fanatical supporters, still have much to look forward to at this World Cup. For South Africa, there is nothing left but the postmortems that await them on their return home.