South Africa's Imran Tahir celebrates taking the wicket of Afghanistan's Asghar Afghan during their ICC Cricket World Cup group stage match at The Cardiff Wales Stadium in Cardiff on Saturday. Photo: David Davies/AP

CARDIFF – As the sun shone gloriously on the luscious green turf and the sea gulls closed in after Andile Phehlukwayo smashed the winning runs into the River Taff, everything seemed right with the world again.

Forgotten were the dark days of London and Southampton. Here in Cardiff, the Welsh capital, the Proteas were basking in the sunlight that is reserved for winners.

The smiles on the faces in the change-room were a reflection of relief as much as joy.  Everyone wearing a green tracksuit knew how just much these two points meant, even though it was taken off a nation where playing cricket was actually banned until 2000.

The emphatic nature of the victory would certainly also be a confidence booster heading into the next four matches, which are all must-win encounters for the Proteas.

They will also know that it wasn’t as one-sided as the scoreboard suggests. Coupled with the threat of rain throughout the day – 88 minutes were lost in total causing South Africa’s innings to be reduced to 48 overs – the butterflies would have been buzzing when Afghanistan had progressed to a solid 69/2 in 20.3 overs.

Surely, this couldn’t be happening again? 

Imran Tahir ensured it didn’t. With the Proteas searching for someone to take the game by the scruff of the neck throughout this World Cup, Tahir answered his captain Faf du Plessis’s call.

The veteran leg-spinner needed just one ball to imprint his stamp on proceedings, when he clean bowled Afghanistan’s premier batsman Noor Ali Zandran for 32. By the end of the over Asghar Afghan (0) had chipped the ball back to Tahir too.

It was the spark the Proteas needed. And from thereon there was no looking back. All-rounders Phehlukwayo (2/18) and Chris Morris (3/13) joined the party too as Afghanistan slumped from 69/2 to 77/7 – five wickets lost for the addition of just eight runs.

Although Afghanistan’s cult-hero Rashid Khan (35 off 24 balls, 6x4)  entertained the large numbers of Afghan fans, many kitted out in traditional wear that had made their way to Cardiff Wales International Stadium with a couple of lusty blows off Kagiso Rabada, it was to no avail. Ultimately Afghanistan lost 9/69 as South Africa pressed home their advantage.

Although the chase was sedate, it was just the sort of effort that was required after the mayhem that has transpired this past two weeks. And when the button needed to be pressed, Quinton de Kock duly did, greeting Khan into the attack with a savage swipe through the vacant leg-side area. He repeated it a couple of times later too as South Africa closed in on the Duckworth-Lewis revised target of 127 off 48 overs.

Throughout the partnership Hashim Amla was content to play second fiddle, although a cheeky reverse-sweep showed that even the grizzly 36-year-old was enjoying the sun baking down on his back. With Afghanistan virtually capitulating through a litany of errors in the field, it was almost a surprise when Mohammad Nabi held on to a catch at short mid-wicket to bring De Kock’s enterprising innings to a close.

South Africa will know very well there are tougher challenges that lay ahead. But for now they will move on to Birmingham knowing that they are still alive in this World Cup, and that alone is reason for cheer.


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