TELFORD VICE, Cape Town
SA’s hopes of reaching the World T20 semi-finals are bleeping on life support in the wake of their loss to West Indies in a heart-stopping finish in Nagpur on Friday.
A piddling SA total of 122/8 never looked like keeping the Windies at bay. However, it almost was – the maroons crumbled like macaroons but stayed intact enough to scramble home with three wickets standing and two balls remaining.
As Faf du Plessis said, “It felt like we were half-a-step behind the West Indians the whole game.”
The result sealed the West Indians’ place in the semis and left SA hoping hard that Sri Lanka beat England on Saturday. If England win SA will be out of the running.
“This game makes us all very old very quickly,” Du Plessis said. “When you’re not playing your best cricket you don’t deserve to be in the semi-finals of a World Cup.
“We’re in a deserving position for the cricket we’re playing.”
An abiding memory of Friday’s game will be of Kagiso Rabada cleanbowling Chris Gayle with the fifth ball of the Windies’ reply, a delivery that swung between bat and pad with serpentine grace.
Another will be of Imran Tahir dropping Marlon Samuels off his own bowling and dismissing Andre Russell and Darren Sammy all in the space of five deliveries.
And still another of Samuels spearing fours through third man twice in the penultimate over before skying a catch down the ground.
But the only memory that matters is that SA batted like dead men walking and, consequently, are a step closer to their funeral in this tournament.
Only six times in their 85 completed T20s have SA scored fewer runs. Only twice in the 29 wins the have achieved batting first have they defended a lower score.
Not that SA’s attack were blameless. No Windies bowler went for more than two boundaries. Rabada and Morris conceded four and five respectively. SA gave away eight runs in wides. West Indies? Two.
But the game turned on both teams’ batsmen being befuddled by what looked rather like a cricket pitch.
Yes, the strip chosen by the groundsman was vetoed by the International Cricket Council’s pitch consultant, Andy Atkinson, who favoured the preparation of a faster surface. Yes, the pitch glinted a touch green from the middle – bizarre for an Indian ground. Yes, it wore a veil of mystery.
No, that did not merit all who batted on it behaving like mechanics refusing to work on a particular car because they had never seen one in that colour.
Properly timed strokes were about as plentiful as golden tickets hidden in Willy Wonka’s bars of chocolate.
Quinton de Kock’s 47 was the best effort in an innings in which David Wiese was the only other player to reach 20, and they joined forces to add 50 for the sixth wicket. But, like SA’s other batsmen, neither De Kock nor Wiese looked anywhere near comfortable at the crease.
Perhaps they were spooked by the sight of Gayle bowling his collector’s item off-spin for only the 23rd time in his 48 T20 internationals.
Whatever. Rilee Rossouw and David Miller were added to a list of 17 batsmen dismissed by Gayle in this format that also features Shane Watson, David Hussey, Brendon McCullum and Jonny Bairstow.
A bigger part of SA’s downfall was Dwayne Bravo’s canny concoction of cutters and off-speed deliveries that earned him figures of 2/20.
And then came Samuels, scrapping and scheming and scratching through five partnerships for his 44.
As matchwinning innings go it was as ugly as a car crash. But Samuels survived and West Indies prospered, and deservedly so.