On a day on which the permutations to qualify for the T20 World Cup semi-finals basically read Mission Impossible, the Proteas won and made the England juggernaut look human. But a little too familiarly, their 10-run victory still didn’t make it to the Promised Land.
Going into their final Super 12s game in Group 1 against the imperious English, the Proteas – having watched the West Indies fail to do them a favour by losing to Australia and allowing the Antipodeans to extend their net run rate in second place – needed to beat England by 57 runs to not only win but progress as the second team in the group into the knockout stages.
Despite the tall nature of the order before them, especially when they lost the toss and were put in to set the target, Temba Bavuma’s men showed composure in sticking to their task as they put up 189 for the loss of two wickets, the most runs by anyone against the well-drilled England.
And by the time England went in to bat, they needed to avoid being bowled out for 86 to qualify for the semis, with South Africa needing to restrict them to 131 or below to follow them into the big time.
Unfortunately, the ultra-aggressive Poms were 59/1 after the power play, 19 runs ahead of where South Africa was at the same stage, maybe thanks to a combination of the Proteas bowlers needing to save the day again and being off-colour.
The epitome of that bowling performance was their chief talisman Kagiso Rabada, who took a hat-trick with the first three balls of the final over, but not before going for a whopping 45 runs in his preceding three overs.
Perhaps fittingly, England reached 131 with a 112m six, the biggest of the tournament, by Liam Livingstone off Rabada, the batsman administering the last rights with another monster hit immediately after that.
When they were put in, South Africa’s MoneyBall batting line-up – thanks to their dealing in small totals and needing their bowlers to rescue the situation – were under pressure to post the kind of target they hadn’t looked like threatening in the last six months.
The beginning of their innings had the hallmark of their becalmed approach, Reeza Hendricks cleaned up for two by Moeen Ali and Quinton de Kock being as circumspect as he usually is about taking the knee.
De Kock treading lightly was understandable, given his form in the tournament thus far, but he pulled out the reverse sweep to great effect to alleviate dot ball pressure en route to building what would be a 71-run partnership (52 balls) with Rassie van der Dussen.
When he did finally try to play a shot in anger – what he hoped would sail for six over Adil Rashid’s head – De Kock holed out to Jason Roy at long on for 34 off 27 balls (four fours).
For his part Van der Dussen, derided all week on social media as one of the maligned accumulators in South Africa’s batting line-up (the others being Bavuma and Hendricks), changed his spots by showing intent from practically the first ball he faced.
Relying on an assortment of ramps and reverse sweeps himself, Van der Dussen used his crease extensively – going deep, sideways and sometimes strolling out of it – as he manipulated the field to all parts in crafting one of the Proteas’ more memorable innings under pressure.
The result was an unbeaten 94 (60 balls) which featured six sixes and five fours, the pick of those being a daredevil ramp off a 145km delivery off a rapid Mark Wood. A sign of how the SA innings had Van der Dussen’s fingerprints all over it was that he scored six of his team’s 10 maximums.
To underline just how the batsmen stood up on the day, Van der Dussen’s ultimate partner in crime in taking the Proteas to a total that gave them a chance, Aiden Markram, scored the other four sixes in their 103-run partnership off 52 balls.
Markram was controlled aggression and judicious shot-making personified as he sped to an unbeaten 52 off 25 balls. Alas, none of that would be enough on the day.