19 June 2009
South Africa’s challenge in the ICC World Twenty 20 came to a halt in the semi-finals at Trent Bridge in Nottingham, England on Thursday, as Graeme Smith and company fell to Pakistan by seven runs. It was a bitterly disappointing result for a team that, up until that point, looked like the best side in the tournament.
“It’s a very, very disappointing result,” said Smith after the match. “One runs out of words to say when you don’t get over the finishing line.”
He added that Pakistan played their best game, and singled out Shahid Afridi’s contribution with bat and ball. Afridi’s bowling especially, said Smith, made all the difference in the game.
Cricket South Africa (CSA) CEO Gerald Majola commented: “We must remember that the Proteas have set a world record of seven consecutive T20 international victories. They are also number one in the world at 50-over cricket, and they have just completed their best-ever season in test cricket.
“These formidable achievements will stand them in good stead as they move on to the meet the next challenges. CSA has every faith in them to continue to be rated as one of the world’s best cricket teams in all forms of the game.
Some will, no doubt, trot out the by now familiar choker’s tag, but the facts presented by Majola make for impressive reading. After a record number of wins in succession, the law of averages was against the Proteas.
The impact of an individual
In the 20 overs per side game, individuals have a far greater opportunity to swing the result of a match than in 50 overs a side matches or test matches; the effects of strong individual efforts are dissipated the longer a contest lasts. Unfortunately for South Africa, Afridi fired in their semi-final showdown, and his contribution proved to be the difference between the sides.
While the Proteas have enjoyed a sustained run of success in all forms of the game in recent times, one area in which they have trailed is in the toss – one wonders just how much more successful they could have been with luck at the spin of the coin – and so it proved on Thursday as Pakistan’s Younis Khan won the toss and elected to bat.
Afridi played the pivotal innings for the Pakistanis, cracking 51 off 34 balls, in a total of 149 for 4. Shoab Malik weighed in with 34 off 39, while Kamran Akmal struck a quick-fire 23 off only 12 balls at the top of the order.
It looked, at one stage, as if Pakistan might reach 170, but excellent bowling at the death by Dale Steyn and Wayne Parnell halted their momentum.
South African reply
South Africa, in their reply, managed 142 for 5 in their 20 overs. Jacques Kallis top scored with 64 off 54 deliveries, while JP Duminy finished unbeaten on 44 off 39 balls, but there was little other support.
Afridi undermined the South African batting effort, capturing 2 for 16 in his four overs and removing the dangerous Herschelle Gibbs and AB de Villiers for five and one respectively. He was an easy choice for man of the match.
Despite yet another disappointing exit from a big International Cricket Council event, a look at the bigger picture reveals that it was a very good tournament for South Africa, and it underlined the fact that the Proteas have become the best all-round team in the game in all forms of cricket.
During the tournament South Africa thrashed Scotland by 130 runs, edged New Zealand by one run, cruised to a seven-wicket win over England, won by 20 runs against the West Indies, and defeated defending champions India by 12 runs.
Kallis, who was controversially left out of the South African team for the inaugural World Twenty20 two years ago, proved his worth by leading all run scorers in the tournament, totalling 238. He also achieved the highest average – 59.50 – for those players who scored at least 100 runs.
AB de Villiers was the third highest run scorer in the event and Graeme Smith was eleventh on the list.
Among the bowlers, Roelof van der Merwe picked up 10 wickets, tied with Shahid Afridi and Ajantha Mendis, and trailing only Lasith Malinga on 11 and Umar Gul and Saeed Ajmal on 12.
The South African opening bowling pair, Dale Steyn and Wayne Parnell, were excellent, capturing nine wickets each. Both Van der Merwe and Parnell returned economy rates of less than six runs an over – the standard for excellent in the T20 game – while Johan Botha and Dale Steyn were not far above the mark.
The emergence of Parnell was particularly significant. The 19-year-old, in his first major tournament, showed that he has what it takes to make a lasting impact on the game. Displaying the temperament of a veteran, he was superb opening the innings with the new ball and just as good finishing an innings.
He destroyed England with a haul of 3 for 15 in 3.5 overs and was even more devastating against the West Indies, knocking over 4 for 13 in his four overs. Handed a tough test, he aced it.
It should be remembered, too, that Van der Merwe, like Parnell , is a relative newcomer to the international stage. With players like these emerging, South Africa has the talent and the toughness to become an even better team. They need to do it soon, however, with stars like Kallis, now 33, and Gibbs, 35, closer to the end than the beginning of their careers.
The Proteas have the ability to prove they are number one. Yet, despite all the successes between major ICC tournament, that recognition will be given only once they have won one of those major titles.
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