SA and the art of losing

The early blows delivered by the Indian bowlers made life difficult for South Africa. The Proteas could still have qualified for the semifinals had they aimed for 126 runs. But even that was attempted with no apparent urgency. Nandita Sridhar reports.

Four years ago, a left-arm medium-pacer swung the ball along a perfectly pre-constructed imaginary arc. Against England at Durban, Ashish Nehra bowled the spell of his lifetime, in the 2003 World Cup.

Comparisons can never be made between a World Cup and a World Twenty20 Championships, but one wonders what might have happened had R. P. Singh had a few more overs. The left-armer swung the ball prodigiously and trapped Herschelle Gibbs leg before.

Three balls later, R. P. Singh was helped by Dinesh Karthik’s acrobatics. South African captain Graeme Smith slashed at one outside the off-stump and Karthik defied gravity to pull off a brilliant double-handed catch in the slips. Perhaps these two wickets in the second over almost sealed South Africa’s fate.

Earlier, Rohit Sharma and skipper M. S. Dhoni steadied the Indian ship with circumspection and the occasional hits to the boundary. Sharma was sedate to start with, but displayed clean hitting thereafter, with shots over mid-wicket being the most productive. Sharma was later adjudged the Man of the Match.

Dhoni played an awkward innings, essaying some bizarre shots. His knock was useful though, as the skipper in the company of Rohit Sharma took India to a defendable score.

The South African chase was very poor. Sreesanth, pumped up by the success of his bowling partner, stunned A. B. de Villiers with one that came in straight and in a flash.

Rohit Sharma was flawless in the field, brilliantly running out the dangerous Justin Kemp.

R. P. Singh delivered his best ball to Shaun Pollock. Combining swing with pace, he clean bowled the South African.

Thereafter, the South African innings meandered along aimlessly. With the victory target — 154 runs — out of reach, the batsmen had to go in pursuit of the runs — 126 — required to qualify for the semifinals. But even that was attempted with no apparent urgency. The runs just didn’t materialise.

When Harbhajan Singh was introduced, the batsmen chose the wrong deliveries to take him on. Both Johan van der Wath and Vernon Philander were stumped when they tried to go after the off-spinner. The host got a little desperate on realising that the semifinal target was also getting beyond its reach. When R. P. Singh castled Albie Morkel, it was all over for South Africa.

Captain Smith was visibly distraught. “We seem to find ways to lose important matches,” he said of his team’s defeat.

After their traumatic World Cup experiences in 1999 and 2003, the South Africans looked like they might triumph here. Having won their group matches and their first two super-eight matches, going out after one loss would have hurt them.

“Teams made it after losing two matches. We lost just one match. It’s a weird feeling. That’s how the format is, and it happens. I guess what we lacked was experience. We needed someone who was experienced enough to deal with such situations,” Smith said.

As former England captain and commentator Nasser Hussain said after the match, South Africa probably needed somebody like Jacques Kallis.