The real pressure will only be off the Proteas once they hold that Cup aloft

2011-03-16 00:00

SOUTH Africa showed steely determination and middle order resolve in their three-run victory over India on Saturday.

After they had watched Robbie Peterson carve Ashish Nehra to the boundary with just two balls to spare, the relief etched on the faces of Smith and his team-mates was there for all to see. Their unconstrained joy showed just what a vital, pressure-releasing win this was for them.

Saturday’s thrilling victory has provided a much-needed break from the tension for the Proteas but it will be a brief respite.

The closer the Proteas get to the business end of the tournament the more pressure they will be under to ensure that they don’t fall at the last hurdle. No other team in the tournament has such a heavy, self-inflicted burden to bear.

It’s a handicap which plays comfortably into the hands of South Africa’s opposition before a ball is bowled.

I think South Africa’s win against India was bigger than we realised. The fact that the inexperienced middle order toughed it out in front of 50 000 fanatical Indian fans showed backbone and a self-belief that’s been lacking in so many of South Africa’s close encounters.

Dare we say this bodes well for the rest of the tournament?

It’s true to say that South Africa were as close to losing on Saturday as they were to winning it, but the difference is they didn’t collapse as has been their custom. One can’t help wondering how tough it would have been for Corrie Van Zyl and South Africa’s new cricket kopdokter Dr Henning Gericke to scrape the Proteas off the floor had India won.

The first few weeks of the tournament have provided some incredible cricketing spectacles and have reminded us how great it is to watch cricket on the subcontinent.

So far England have provided some of the best entertainment albeit with far too many nail-biting encounters for their liking.

As expected the home spectators have been hugely partisan. A deathly hush has greeted the fall of their team’s wickets and any boundary scored by their opposition. This is in stark contrast to the shouts of joy and elation at their side’s success.

There has been some scintillating shot making in the tournament. The partnership between Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Seh­wag that took the Protea attack to pieces in the opening overs at Nagpur, has been one of the finest examples. This was an exhibition of classic cricket with not a reverse sweep or slog in sight.

The Proteas led by a Dale Steyn deserve all the credit for clawing the game back when it looked like India could reach well over the 400-run mark.

Now that they have beaten Ireland, the Proteas have secured a quarter-final place.

As they prepare for the knockout stages they will be keenly aware that the real pressure will only be off them once they hold the silverware aloft.

Saturday’s match proved that the Proteas have the ability to clinch tight contests, but their fans won’t be entirely convinced until they claim the Cup.

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