Before their semi-final clash against England on Wednesday, South Africa were filled to the brim with chutzpah. They were beyond bullish, convinced that they could give England a real run for their money and convinced that they have made peace with the chokers tag which has been hung around their neck for so long.
They were pumped up and ready to go on Wednesday morning and despite Dale Steyn being ruled out through injury, South Africa still looked up for it. There was energy in their warm-ups, they were bum patting with extra vigour and they might have even skipped off the field and to the change room before the openers were due to walk out.
They were going to go out swinging and they were not going to back down. It showed even in their batting approach. Their confidence and determination had gone to their heads, though, and they’d forgotten that sometimes it’s better to be a mouse rather than a musketeer. Musketeers are reckless and foolish in their approach. Mice, although quiet and timid, are often courageous and will take calculated risks without anybody noticing. That’s all the Proteas needed to do. Instead, they were so desperate to prove that they are not cowardly, not chokers, not losers, not scared, that they forgot that sometimes the best approach is to feign inferiority in order to encourage their opponent’s arrogance.
Colin Ingram was the first to fall. Despite a good showing in the previous game, he had no answer for the orthodox swing of James Anderson early on. Dismissed for a five-ball duck, he was the first casualty in a very long list of embarrassing dismissals of irresponsible cricket.
Hashim Amla, usually an oasis of calm, was sent back to the dressing room in the next over. Caught somewhere between not wanting to play at the ball and being forced to play at it because of his awkward back lift, Amla chipped through to Jos Buttler off Steven Finn and the keeper took an acrobatic catch behind the stumps as South Africa stuttered to 40-2.
There was some hope, though. Robin Peterson was promoted up the order again, not to pinch-hit so much as to protect AB de Villiers and JP Duminy. He and Faf du Plessis managed a brief spell of resilience with a 41-run partnership, which included some shots that would make many believe that Peterson is a batsman.
He didn’t last, though, and even though he didn’t have to up the run rate, Peterson decided to attack and after pulling across the wicket repeatedly, Anderson foxed him by pitching full and straight and in his leg-before defence, he was hit on his pads and he too was sent back to the dressing room.
That’s when the collapse well and truly started. Du Plessis followed, flashing at a ball outside his stumps. AB de Villiers played a shot so irresponsible it would make Pakistan blush and JP Duminy went from hot property on return, to repossessed property going under the bank’s hammer.
Soon, South Africa had slumped to 80-8 and 100 looked unreachable as it all started going to hell in a handcart for the Proteas. The handcart was doused in petrol, stuffed with dynamite and set alight.
It took the defiance of David Miller and Rory Kleinveldt to prove that the wickets were indeed a batsman’s paradise. The two got together for a record 95-run partnership with both players carting England’s bowlers around the park with abject aggression. Kleinveldt is no mug with the bat and, while many were surprised by his ability to handle it, that is unfounded. Kleinveldt eventually succumbed to Broad with Buttler once again taking a fine catch behind the stumps. Miller was left stranded on 56 off 51 balls, leaving many wondering what could have been if only the top order hadn’t forgotten how to apply themselves.
There was absolutely nothing wrong with the pitch and England’s bowlers’ figures will flatter them. Those who didn’t watch the match might think that there were a few demons in it, but the only demons around The Oval existed in the South African players’ brains.
The visitors were all out for 175 in just 38.4 overs and it was a stagnant and familiar situation for anyone who had kept an eye on South African cricket for the past two decades.
The Proteas did well manage to early wickets, but Jonathan Trott and Joe Root combined for another consistent batting performance from England’s top order. With a flick, a slap, a paddle and a nudge, the pair schooled South Africa’s batsmen in how to apply themselves. Root was undone by trying to be cheeky and fell short of his half century, managing 48 off 71. But with the score on 146-3, England were well set for a thumping win.
Trott did the business and led the team to victory with a four gently tucked away between extra cover and long off as his team sealed their spot in the semi-final.
Once more, South Africa return home with a wooden spoon. Embarrassed, defeated and not even nearly men this time. Their disappointment in ICC knockout matches is now not only expected, it is part of their DNA. They are reckless musketeers who are still waiting for their siege of La Rochelle to end. DM
South Africa 175 (38.4 ov)
David Miller 56* (51), Rory Kleinvedlt 43 (61); Stuart Broad 8.4-0-50-3, James Tredwell 7-1-19-3
England 179/3 (37.3 ov)
Jonathan Trott 82* (84), Joe Root 48 (71); Chris Morris 8-1-38-1, Rory Kleinveldt 4-0-10-1
England won by seven wickets.
Photo: England’s Steven Finn (4th R) is congratulated after dismissing South Africa’s Hashim Amla during the ICC Champions Trophy semi final match at The Oval cricket ground in London June 19, 2013. REUTERS/Philip Brown
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