26 April 2007
South Africa’s challenge for the 2007 Cricket World Cup title came to crashing halt in the semi-finals, and this time round there was no bad luck involved: the Australians completely outplayed the Proteas, winning by seven wickets with more than 18 overs to spare.
It brought the curtain down on a World Cup campaign that was ragged in its consistency. At times, Graeme Smith and company produced outstanding cricket, while, at other times, it was merely average. In a competition lasting as long as the World Cup, consistently good performances are needed and South Africa didn’t measure up.
‘We also let ourselves down’
Speaking after the Proteas’ defeat, Smith said: “As a team we know what we are capable of. I think we have been a little bit up and down in the World Cup. We have had some outstanding performances, we have had some medium performances. Being two games away from winning a World Cup and not putting in the performance that you are looking forward to, it is disappointing. I wouldn’t say we were just beaten today. We also let ourselves down.”
It was a performance that stunned South Africa’s supporters because of a string of rash shots that saw the Proteas’ top order disintegrate within the first 10 overs as the team stumbled to 27 for 5. From that point, there was no turning the match around. Only one side could win from that position and it was Australia.
Coach Mickey Arthur defended his team’s batsmen, saying: “I don’t think we played reckless shots and threw our wickets away. We had a plan. We needed to disrupt Australia’s momentum somehow. We needed to get on top and we needed to get on top quick.”
South Africa in an early hole
Instead, an aggressive approach put South Africa into an early hole and once the Aussies got their noses in front, they pushed home their advantage.
Smith won the toss at the Beausejour Cricket Ground in Saint Lucia and elected to bat.
His decision may have had something to do with the group match between the two sides when Australia got away to a flyer as they compiled 377 for 6, which put SA under huge pressure. Obviously, the South African skipper was hoping to turn the tables and put pressure on the Aussies, but it never happened.
For the first time in the tournament, Ricky Ponting gave Glenn McGrath the new ball to share with Nathan Bracken and it proved an inspired decision.
First wicket falls
Bracken was the first man to strike when, in the third over, he bowled Smith as the left-hander gave the bowler the charge and missed an attempted shot over the top. His stumps were rattled and he was gone for two as South Africa fell to 7 for 1.
Jacques Kallis joined AB de Villiers in the middle, but their partnership lasted into the sixth over only. Off the second ball of the over, Kallis backed away to leg and gave himself room to drive McGrath through the covers for four. The very next delivery he again tried to create space for a shot, but a full pitched delivery from McGrath knocked his stumps back and he was gone for five.
Herschelle Gibbs teamed with De Villiers and they advanced the score to 22 for 2 after eight overs. Ponting then introduced Shaun Tait into the attack, taking over from Bracken.
He tried to bounced De Villiers first ball and was hammered to the midwicket boundary. However, three balls later, he struck. The opener drove at a full ball without any decent footwork, succeeding only in edging the delivery, which wicketkeeper Adam Gilchrist safely caught. De Villiers had scored 15 off 39 balls.
The next over, McGrath knocked the stuffing out of the South African innings. With his fourth delivery he removed Ashwell Prince for a duck as the left hander wafted at a wide delivery, with his feet rooted to the crease, and Gilchrist took the edge.
In came Mark Boucher, and he immediately departed, dismissed first ball. McGrath sent down a full delivery, probing outside the off stump, and Boucher got an edge to the ball. Matthew Hayden, at first slip, pouched the chance, reducing South Africa to 27 for 5.
Justin Kemp kept the hat-trick ball out and he and Herschelle Gibbs set about trying to steady South Africa’s innings.
Gibbs fights back
Gibbs helped himself to three fours off Tait and, when the fast bowler was replaced by Shane Watson, he greeted the medium pacer with another boundary.
By the twenty-first over the pair had put together a a 50-partnership. It didn’t last much longer, however.
In the twenty-third over, Gibbs tickled a delivery from Tait to Gilchrist, which ended his innings. He had scored 39 from 49 balls. His partnership with Kemp was worth 60 runs.
The new batsman, Andrew Hall, lasted only until the first ball of the twenty-seventh over when he became Tait’s third victim as Gilchrist pocketed his fourth catch. His contribution was three and South Africa had fallen to 93 for 7.
Gentle return catch
Shaun Pollock struck a four off Brad Hogg to take the Proteas past the 100-mark, but in the same over he was out for five. He prodded tentatively forward to a good length delivery from the left-arm spinner, resulting in a gentle return catch to the bowler.
Andre Nel then teamed with Justin Kemp as South Africa fought to bring some kind of respectability to their score.
Kemp struck Watson for two fours in an over, but runs suddenly dried up as the batsmen were reduced to scratching for singles.
Fourth wicket for Tait
Then, Tait struck for the fourth time. Nel slashed at a short, wide delivery from the paceman and Michael Clark, at backward point, backpedaled to take an easy catch. Nel had lasted 41 balls and scored eight runs.
His dismissal brought Charl Langeveldt to the crease with South Africa on 130 for 9.
Kemp managed another two fours and Langeveldt responded by slashing a boundary over point. The next ball, though, he was out for six after giving himself room to hit Watson, who bowled him with a ball that pitched in the block hole.
Kemp remained unbeaten on 49 from 91 balls, with four fours and one six.
South Africa were all out for just 149, a total that was unlikely to prove challenging to the Aussies.
McGrath claimed 3 for 18 in eights over and destroyed the South African top order. It was a performance that won him the man of the match award. Tait also performed excellently, snapping up 4 for 39 in 10 overs.
Early hopes of a miraculous result were raised for the Proteas as Langveldt, with the first ball of the second over, produced a stunning delivery to bowl Gilchrist for one. The ball swung into the left-hander and then tracked in further off the pitch to find the gap between bat and pad, resulting in Aussie skipper Ricky Ponting making an early visit to the crease.
Ponting and Matthew Hayden, the tournament’s top run scorer, settled things down, adding 43 for the second wicket before Andre Nel yorked Ponting with the final ball of the ninth over, bowling him for 22 from 25 deliveries.
Michael Clark joined Hayden in the middle and they set about taking the game away from the battling Proteas.
The pair kept the scoreboard ticking over, finding singles and the occasional boundary, to take the total to 110 before Hayden fell. He tried to strike Pollock straight over the top, but got too far under the ball and Smith took the catch at long on. Hayden’s effort produced 41 runs from 60 balls.
Andrew Symonds then paired with Clark to see Australia through to victory in the thirty-second over.
Symonds weighed in with 18 from 16 deliveries, while Clark finished on a well-played 60 from 86 balls, with eight fours.
South Africa, who had entered the World Cup with the number-one ranking in the world, were out of the tournament, having put together a disappointing record of six wins and four losses.
The victories came over The Netherlands, Scotland, Sri Lanka, Ireland, the West Indies, and England, while two defeats were suffered at the hands of Australia, with other losses to New Zealand and Bangladesh.
Bluntly speaking, the only victory of note was that against Sri Lanka, who will face Australia in the World Cup final. Apart from that, three wins came against associate nations, while the West Indies and England were teams badly out of form.
Out of form
South Africa, too, was a little out of form, missing a cutting edge and the sharpness needed to win the big one at the World Cup. That cost them dearly when they faced a team firing on all cylinders in the semi-finals as Australia cruised to a worthy place in the World Cup final.
Heading into the tournament, it looked like the Proteas might finally have the answers to the questions that World Cup has asked of them in the past. They left the tournament with more questions than answers.