Cape Town – Four grenades lobbed their way, even before the
game began ... all of them confidently grabbed, and hurled back with interest
for a booming explosion at the other end.
Imperiously overcoming a major quartet of reservations going
into it, South Africa instead made a no-contest of their World Cup quarter-final
against Sri Lanka at Sydney Cricket Ground on Wednesday, and in doing so
re-announcing themselves as frontline contenders for the elusive trophy.
The Proteas, absolutely reeking of intensity and dogged
motivation from start to finish, rolled the ‘Lankans for 133 – hideously
insufficient if Shane Warne’s stubborn theory of 280 as requirement on the
surface was to be believed – and then knocked off the runs with all of nine
wickets and 32 overs to spare.
“That was the perfect performance,” stated even that tough
taskmaster and former national captain Kepler Wessels from the SuperSport
studio, as AB de Villiers’s side enjoyed the luxury of being the first team
safely installed in the semis and able to spend the next few days watching the
ups and downs (might we expect some closer contests?) of the remaining three
matches in the phase.
So what were the four critical boxes that needed ticking by
South Africa for a clash widely expected beforehand to be too tight to call?
The first and most obvious one was the truly big monkey on
the back: the uncomfortable knowledge that the Proteas had never previously won
a CWC knockout match, even if they have been semi-finalists three times
previously (1992, 1999 and 2007) in days when the format was different.
That once-tenacious primate has now not so much been brushed
off as tossed into the deep undergrowth in terror.
The next was the understandable fear that the modern SA
side, with its reputation as “bat-first bullies” but perceived frail-hearts on
the chase, might see a spectacular downgrading of their chances at the SCG if
the Sri Lankans got first opportunity to take guard.
They did, and with it
many Proteas enthusiasts back home would have nervously spilt the milk intended
for their early morning coffees at telly-side.
But again, such paranoia proved notably unnecessary; Hashim
Amla quickly set the tone in the reply as he smashed Lasith Malinga’s opening
delivery to the ropes and somehow from there, you always felt a significant
wobbly was highly unlikely to take root.
The third major uncertainty was over the issue, vexing for
some time, of the balance of the Proteas’ combination: would they go
batting-heavy for the quarter-final, or bowler-laden ... or would they opt for
the “meet halfway” kind of option once more in Farhaan Behardien?
They went with Option A, thus saddling JP Duminy with dedicated
fifth-bowler responsibility, and much to the credit of coach Russell Domingo
and others close to him strategically, the plan worked a delicious treat.
Duminy, who ended up sharing seven mid- to late-innings
wickets with ever-incisive tweaking ally Imran Tahir, not only banished the
fear that he would be severely challenged in the economy department – he went
for a miserly 3.22 in his nine overs – but earned the
tell-the-grandchildren-one-day feat of becoming only the second spinners to
land a hat-trick in World Cup history behind Saqlain Mushtaq of Pakistan
(against Zimbabwe at The Oval in 1999).
Until Wednesday, Duminy’s bowling performance at the
tournament had been indifferent, by the little off-spinner’s own later
admission, but neutral television commentator Mark Nicholas rightly lauded him
for quickly sensing the nature of the SCG strip by sending down the majority of
his deliveries “fuller and slower” rather than in the flatter, quicker mode of
recent matches which can sometimes also reveal hints of low confidence.
With Duminy and Tahir in their element to an extent they may
not have imagined against these normally so spin-wise opponents, there was also
no respite for Sri Lanka against pace as Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Kyle
Abbott (another astute pick on the day) bristled with controlled aggression.
As if to put the cherry on top of this nirvana-like display,
a fourth area of pre-quarters concern – the recent batting struggle of
wunderkind Quinton de Kock – was also able to be banished to the bottom drawer.
Showing a significantly restored sense of balance and timing
at the crease, the left-handed opener punched his way to a fearless unbeaten 78
off 57 balls to ensure the crazily early -- not much after twilight in New
South Wales -- finish.
As indicated by Sport24 earlier this week, the Highveld
Lions favourite already has a healthy track record in his fledgling top-flight
career for forceful bounce-backs from spells of personal uncertainty – here was
“We really wanted to win today; we were almost obsessed with
the goal,” confessed De Villiers in the immediate post-match interview, no
doubt tickled pink by the outcome after making some unusually bullish
statements in the build-up but then seeing his players so gladdeningly back him
That seemingly constructive “obsession” just needs to last
two more matches for South Africa ...
*Follow our chief
writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing