Close But No Cigar As South Africa Bow Out

Cricket News By TODAYLIVESCORE.INFO - Close but no cigar as South Africa bow out. Rabada's final-over hattrick secured a consolatory win for South Africa as Australia pipped them to the semis on the basis of superior NRR

Close But No Cigar As South Africa Bow OutRabada's final-over hattrick secured a consolatory win for South Africa as Australia pipped them to the semis on the basis of superior NRR

Win by 61 runs or chase down your target inside 13 overs. That's not easy at the best of times, but especially when you haven't won a T20I by that many runs since January 2015, or prevailed in an unshortened match that quickly since December 2012.

And also not when you're up against opponents who haven't put a foot wrong at the T20 WC and have beaten you five straight times in the format. On top of that, you're not playing the most solid cricket yourself, scrambling rather than surging to victory.

South Africa were at the bottom of a hole looking up at that equation before they took on England in Sharjah on Saturday. To nail down second place in Group 1 and reach the T20 WC semi-finals they needed not only to win, but to win emphatically. Against an England team, mind, that hadn't come close to losing in their first four games.

The South Africans' order to beat England was tall enough. But it morphed into a tower of trouble because second-placed Australia's net runrate had ballooned. It went from -0.627 to +1.031 after they thrashed Bangladesh in Dubai on Thursday to +1.226 thanks to their thumping of West Indies in Abu Dhabi earlier on Saturday.

“South Africa on their way; first run of 200,” Dale Steyn quipped on commentary when Reeza Hendricks bunted the second ball of the match, bowled by Moeen Ali, to long-on. The South Africans reached 50 off 43 balls and 100 off 78 – both their fastest of the tournament, and the latter the quickest three figures has been reached against England at the event. Halfway through their innings South Africa were 73/1 – their best position, in terms of runs scored as well as wickets lost, after 10 overs in all five of their games.

Quinton de Kock looked intent on making up for the scores of seven, 12 and 16 in his other innings. But, having made 34 off 27, he mistimed a lofted drive off Adil Rashid and was caught on the ropes down the ground. That ended a stand of 71 off 52 he shared with Rassie van der Dussen – who 10 balls later hooked an express delivery from Mark Wood 82 metres into the stands to bring up the 100.

Aiden Markram's entrance made for the silkiest of gear changes. He and Van der Dussen plundered 103 off 53, South Africa's biggest partnership of the tournament, to take the total to 189/2 – their highest here, the highest made against England, and the third highest of the World Cup. Van der Dussen's 60-ball undefeated 94 and Markram's 52 not out off 25 were their team's best scores of an event in which they posted only one other half-century.

The second strip from one edge of the table was used for the pitch, which skewed the dimensions of the ground for all involved. One boundary was only 52 metres away and another 57 metres, but the fences opposite were 76 and 73 metres in the distance.

That wasn't the only significant oddity on Saturday. Another was the mystery of why South Africa hadn't batted like this earlier in the tournament. The surface was one of the more willing in the tournament and the unusual boundaries gave the bowlers a headache, but the ball still needed to be hit well and with power and creativity. And South Africa hit it better, harder and with more innovation than they have done in too long. Where had this kind of batting been earlier? Against Australia, for instance, when the South Africans limped to 118/9? Or against Bangladesh, when they took 13.3 overs to reel in a minnow target of 85?

“We always go out with a plan to put pressure on bowling attacks, [but] the conditions have been tough,” Mark Boucher told a press conference. “We haven't really got off to a start like that, at least at the World Cup. We've always been losing wickets in the powerplay. We set targets we want to achieve and we're quite adaptable in these conditions. Two guys managed to stay at the crease and get a good partnership, which is something we always try and do. We were able to bat ourselves into a position where we could really put England under pressure, and it paid off.”

So much so that a few floors were lopped off that tower of trouble: win by at least 58 runs or restrict England to 131, or fewer, and the door to a semi-final would swing wide open. It was kept securely locked by Jason Roy and Jos Buttler, but with 38 rattled up off 25 Roy had to be helped off the field with a calf injury he sustained as he set off from the non-striker's end. Not that that stopped the flow of runs, with Buttler and Moeen clipping 20 off nine before Buttler – still this World Cup's only centurion – drove Anrich Nortje into Temba Bavuma's hands at mid-off.

Moeen and Dawid Malan took England to 81/2 in 10 overs, which meant South Africa had only 50 to defend off the last half of the innings if they were to make it to the semis. That would have been tough even if their bowlers didn't have their only off day of the tournament, conceding 17 fours and leaking runs at 8.94 to the over – both tournament highs for the South Africans.

Tabraiz Shamsi had Moeen caught on the long-on fence the ball after he had clattered a six over the same boundary. But England were undeterred, screaming past 131 with the second of four consecutive sixes launched by Malan and Livingstone off Dwaine Pretorius and Kagiso Rabada in the 15th and 16th overs. With that another thought, unthunk since South Africa's innings, popped up: were England tilting towards victory?

They were, and that would have been merciful. To win and be eliminated regardless would be bad enough for South Africa. But for that victory not to stop the Australians – of all people – from stealing their place in the final four would be too much. Thus there would have been more than a few South Africans shouting for England as the end loomed.

But their fears were realised when Rabada, defending 14 off the last with the English heaving for sixes, had Chris Woakes, Eoin Morgan and Chris Jordan hole out to his first three deliveries. Rabada managed a smile after Jordan was dismissed, but it was still the most underwhelming hattrick imaginable. That all but sealed South Africa's win, and their fate.

“We played some good cricket throughout the campaign, under a lot of pressure as well after having lost our first game [to those darned Aussies],” Boucher said. “Tonight we beat the in-form side in white-ball cricket for a while now, so it's a tough one for the guys in the changeroom. We did the job today, but it's quite bitter. Unfortunately ifs and buts, they don't count now.”

Unlike some of the South Africa teams Boucher played in, this side didn't melt when the heat was on. They lost – once – when it mattered and, on Saturday, won when it didn't. No ifs, no buts, and no semi-final. But no disgrace.

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