BIRMINGHAM – South Africa’s World Cup campaign is over.
There will be some that will cling to a mathematical miracle, but on the basis of their tepid performances the past three weeks here in the United Kingdom, they simply don’t deserve to dine at the table of the “Fabulous Four”.
Now New Zealand, they are a class side, and led by an even classier captain in Kane Williamson, whose match-winning century on Wednesday ranks alongside the finest ever at a World Cup as he guided his team to a six-wicket victory at Edgbaston.
The Black Caps bowl and bat – maybe not catch – like championship contenders.
They exude energy in the field, and will have to implode spectacularly in their remaining games not to join the likes of Australia, India and hosts England when the semi-finals eventually do come around.
The Proteas, in contrast, are a team that possess individuals who try their damndest, and they certainly did in another epic contest here at Edgbaston, but collectively don’t have the class or skills to compete at this level.
They were simply off the pace, particularly with the bat, where ageing veterans are playing a style of cricket that would possibly have been relevant when the World Cup was held here 20 years ago.
The game has moved on, and unfortunately, it has left South Africa far behind. This certainly is a slight on the players, as much as the management team headed by coach Ottis Gibson.
Mandated with securing at least a World Cup final place upon his appointment just short of two years ago now, Gibson has fallen horribly short.
While that was always viewed to be highly optimistic, it is more the regression, and brand of cricket particularly, played by the national team that has been most alarming.
Gibson promised a new world. In this universe, players were liberated and strode to the crease without any inhibitions.
Instead, the Proteas have been consumed by the fear of failure, and thus they have failed by losing four matches out of six.
It is the senior players’ performances, especially, that have been most distressing. Whereas New Zealand’s maestro Williamson played an innings for the ages to see his team home with an unbeaten 106, South Africa’s “manne” left their team floundering at pinnacle moments yet again.
Aiden Markram may have played an ill-judged shot to get out for 38, but it is not rookies that win their teams such high-pressure games. That’s the responsibility of grizzled veterans.
For the fifth consecutive time, South Africa have lost to New Zealand at the World Cup. It is a damning statistic, considering the disparity in terms of resources and players available to the respective nations.
At the interval, the Proteas were challenging to change the narrative.
New Zealand had bowled splendidly on a sluggish Edgbaston pitch, but South Africa had hung in just long enough through half-centuries from Hashim Amla and Rassie van der Dussen to post a competitive 241/6 in 49 overs.
And then the bowlers, along with the fielders, scrapped to create a tension-filled atmosphere at the same venue that witnessed the greatest ODI ever 20 years ago to the week.
Chris Morris (3/49) was a bundle of energy and chutzpah. Imran Tahir (0/33 in 10 overs) was his exuberant self.
But just like that fateful day back in 1999, it was the men in green that had their World Cup dreams left strewn on the Edgbaston outfield.
* Follow all the #CricketWorldCup action here.@ZaahierAdams