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World Cup exits hurt, no matter how it happens

Sport

CRICKET

World Cup exits hurt, no matter how it happens

International retirees JP Duminy and Imran Tahir leave the field at the Cricket World Cup after the Proteas' victory over Australia on 6 July 2019. (Photo: Twitter / @cricketworldcup)

Pakistan’s brave-but-doomed effort reminds Proteas fans that there’s no nice way to be knocked out of a Cricket World Cup.

Well, that was weird. Going into bat in their final Group Stage match at the 2019 ICC Cricket World Cup, against Bangladesh at Lord’s, Pakistan knew that they had to score at least 400 runs to still have a chance of qualifying for the semifinals. Even a total of 500 might not have been enough.

The peculiarities of the tournament format – and the mind-bending arithmetic of Net Run Rate – meant that Pakistan had had to pray that it didn’t rain, had to win the toss, had to bat first and had to beat Bangladesh by a margin of at least 320-ish runs (the all-time record is 290). Good luck with that.

Captain Sarfraz Ahmed duly won the toss and elected to bat first on a relatively sunny day in London. What followed was pure, unadulterated Pakistani cricket: A bewildering combination of the sublime and the other thing. Imam-ul-Haq scored a beautiful 100 off 99 balls and promptly (accidentally) trod on his stumps. Out, hit wicket. Imad Wasim blasted 43 off 26, only to get caught at third man off the penultimate ball of the innings. Pakistan ended on 315 for nine. They had to bowl Bangladesh out for a total of seven to stay in the tournament.

They didn’t.

Bangladesh hit their eighth run off the 11th ball of their innings (Pakistan, of course, contrived to drop a catch along the way), and it was all over. Pakistan would go on to win by 94 runs, but that hardly mattered.

For South African fans, it was tempting to watch and wonder how it would have felt if that had been the Proteas. South Africa’s dismal start to the tournament (and early exit from it) meant their last two games, against Sri Lanka and Australia, were pretty much meaningless.

Well… meaningless to South Africa. By beating Sri Lanka, the Proteas knocked them out of the tournament too. And by beating Australia, the Proteas condemned them to a tricky semifinal date against England.

As contenders, the South Africans may have failed at the 2019 Cricket World Cup. As spoilers, they did a fine job.

The win against Australia was particularly satisfying (superb top-order batting, incredible bowling at the death)… or it would have been, if it really mattered.

And there’s the rub. If you’d been forced to choose the manner of South Africa’s exit from the tournament, what would you have picked? Would you have gone with Pakistan’s noble (but doomed) last-match heartache?

Would you have opted for a West Indies-style campaign, which ticked and tocked from certain victory (they had Australia at 79 for five!) to flummoxing defeat (they still lost to Australia)?

Or how about a Bangladesh-like performance, which was good (they beat the teams that finished at the bottom of the log) but not good enough (they lost to the teams that finished at the top of the log)?

Or would you have gone with what Sri Lanka went with… whatever that was? (Bowled out for 201 by Afghanistan, bowled out for 136 by New Zealand, but then they go and beat England. You try figuring that one out.)

Ultimately, South Africa’s chosen method of World Cup elimination (not that one actually chooses these things) was to not really get started, but then – once they were out and had nothing to play for – to start playing really, really well.

There were yeah-buts and asterisks and asides throughout South Africa’s 2019 ICC Cricket World Cup adventure. Every sentence spoken or written about the Proteas at this tournament felt like it needed an explanation in brackets somewhere in the middle or at the end.

It’s hard to tell exactly why or how it all went wrong (though heaven knows we’ll try), but what Proteas fans are ultimately left with is a strange sense that things went badly (but they could have gone a lot worse). DM

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