Put aside blind patriotism for a minute – and genuinely consider whether or not South Africa deserved to advance to the World Cup semi-final. Remember, too, telling losses at the hands of Pakistan and India in the group stage. The imbalance of the Proteas squad, which arguably wasn’t rotated enough this month and the last, couldn’t hide behind JP Duminy and AB de Villiers as genuine fifth and sixth bowling options respectively for long enough. New Zealand have remained undefeated throughout – and will be true champions if triumphant over Australia or India on Sunday. For all the debate surrounding the format of the tournament – whether the minnows should be retained, how the pools should be split, etc – there is a lot to be said for one unbeaten team going all the way. The Kiwis, on the back of several cool, calm, collected and successful pursuits entirely deserve the coveted title.
2. Would’ve, could’ve, should’ve
While Black Cap and neutral fans will be satisfied with a great game of cricket, South African supporters will typically have plenty of ‘what ifs’ to ponder. AB de Villiers faced just six of the 30 deliveries after the rain delay – and scored a mere four runs. David Miller, indeed, pulled off a significantly cavalier job – but perhaps the swashbuckling De Villiers would have done even better. The oft-misunderstood Duckworth-Lewis method, again, will face several criticisms. The Proteas were afforded a mere 16 extra runs for the full seven overs that went unbowled. The unused 42 deliveries spared more expense from Duminy and De Villiers, but the run-to-ball ratio seems relatively unfair – given the high-scoring nature of the truncated fixture.
3. Steyn shelf life under microscope
Tuesday saw the aforementioned lack of rotation catch up with Steyn, who nursed a hamstring injury and left the field for treatment on a couple of occasions. Like the bulk of South Africa’s campaign, he was not at his best against New Zealand – and will be the first to admit plans didn’t pan out accordingly. Synonymous with slower second and third spells and rendered rather ineffective by a damp ball held cross seam, the pace ace was cut down to size by Brendon McCullum – and later Grant Elliott. He would have been a major doubt for the final at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, had the Proteas made it that far, and big questions need to be asked of the 31-year-old’s stay in the ODI arena – if his more important role in Test match cricket is to be extended.
4. Abbott, not Philander
South Africa overthought selection ahead of Tuesday’s big decider. Philander, hampered by injury, should not have played. Abbott should have been retained. The thought that Philander extended the batting order proved a moot point – and he was very shoddy with the ball. Initially targeted by McCullum, he hardly recovered – and also left the field for medical help later. There was a bit of seam movement, yes, but swing was largely absent. Abbott’s greater pace and additional bounce would have been a welcome dynamic. How he is not one of the first names penned on the team sheet each and every time is a travesty. Philander’s time in the ODI outfit will come again, but a World Cup semi-final was completely the wrong timing for his return.
5. Token solace in Tahir
Kudos to Imran Tahir, who can hold his head up high on the back of a slew of solid individual performances. His opening maiden was the crucial juncture that allowed Morne Morkel to end McCullum’s onslaught from the other side. The fact that the squad had fellow slow bowler Aaron Phangiso along for the ride suggested full confidence in Tahir had not quite yet been earned prior to the start of the tournament. He soon repaid the faith, though, handsomely – and has another 15 World Cup wickets to show for his efforts. While he still isn’t turning it much for a leg-spinner, his wrong’un – sometimes deployed three or four times an over – was a real treat. Corey Anderson, in particular, couldn’t pick it at all.