In & Out: That elusive semi down under

2015-03-22 15:00

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Just before Quinny de Kock (née De Kock-up) scored the winning runs against Sri Lanka in the first quarterfinal of the 2015 cricket World Cup on Wednesday, Indian commentator Harsha Bhogle said: “If you can’t talk about South Africa choking, what do you talk about then?”

That kind of summed up the utter bewilderment I’m sure many people felt when they witnessed a total performance by the Proteas in a tournament for the first time since?…?well, forever.

We were given a sense the South Africans were sniffing blood when Imran Tahir ran over to the only Pakistani supporters in the crowd to celebrate his dismissal of Mahela Jayawardene for just 4, the second of the four scalps he took on the day. Punching the air with the bhangra fervour we’ve grown so accustomed to, Tahir took his adopted team to within range of the target: that elusive semi they flew down under for.

Some dangerously frugal swing bowling by Dale Steyn and his fast-bowling team did the damage early on – but oddly enough, it was spin that proved to be the subcontinental giants’ undoing. Tahir’s four wickets and a rare hat-trick by JP Duminy led to the total annihilation of Sri Lanka’s batting order, with just Kumar Sangakkara providing a semblance of dignity to his last game in the blue and yellow, top-scoring for his team while watching the rest of the batting line-up burn around him.

South Africa’s convincing nine-wicket victory vindicated captain AB de Villiers’ big talk before the game about his team being the best in the tournament.

It’s difficult not to believe AB, regardless of what he says, but in this case we’d heard it all before – from former captain Graeme Smith, his predecessor Shaun Pollock, and even Hansie Cronje before them. (Although, admittedly, when Hansiegate broke and many teenage boys were left brokenhearted, it was tough to take whatever Hansie had said or done before that seriously.) Promises, promises.

But the team delivered on Wednesday, despite all misgivings. The World Cup knockout jinx holds no more, which was probably what Bhogle was getting at in the first place.

It’s almost as if the cricketing world wants to see South Africa follow through and succeed in a tournament for a change, now that it appears they aren’t their own worst enemies.

There’s no disputing Honourable Minister of Sport and Recreation Fikile Mbalula’s assertion on Twitter that the team are a “bunch of semifinalists”, but winning one knockout match only means there’s another to play. And when the Proteas square off against an undefeated New Zealand on Tuesday, that ignominious monkey will no doubt be latched to their backs once more.

Whether they can shake it off a second time remains to be seen.

Perhaps it’s wise not to hold your breath, given the South Africans’ knack for not sealing the deal.

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