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Proteas show us what might have been

South Africa restored some pride with a 10-run win over Australia in their final Cricket World Cup match, thanks to superb batting from captain Faf du Plessis and Rassie van der Dussen.

Proteas captain Faf du Plessis during a match against Australia in the Cricket World Cup 2019. Picture: @cricketworldcup/Twitter.

MANCHESTER - These two don’t do boring do they? Ahead of the clash between South Africa and Australia at Old Trafford, fans and journalists told themselves that there was no such thing as a dead rubber between these two fierce rivals.

So what if Australia had already qualified for the semi-finals, and so what if South Africa have long been eliminated? This is the Proteas versus the Aussies damnit! This will always matter.

The players did not disappoint. They produced a thriller which South Africa edged by 10 runs to close out the World Cup group phase with a roaring crescendo.

There were hundreds by Faf du Plessis (100 off 94 balls) and David Warner (122 off 117). Rassie van der Dussen (95 off 97) and Alex Carey (85 off 69) produced breathtaking cameos. South Africa posted their highest score of the competition in registering 325/6 that always looked beyond Australia’s reach.

It is a lazy cynic who would label these Proteas as chokers. Only the most blinkered jingoist would have placed them among the pre-tournament favourites. But they were well below par when a place in the final four was still an option and it is an unavoidable fact that they’ve played their best cricket when that was no longer the case.

Quinton de Kock and Aiden Markram (standing in for Hashim Amla whose twisted knee ruled him out) were imperious against the new ball. For 11 overs they flayed Mitchell Starc and Jason Behrendorff; two bowlers who have decimated batting units with searing, swinging scorchers.

With sumptuous drives through the covers and scything cuts through backward point the openers put on 79 delicious runs that could make grown men swoon. If this is the new generation then South African cricket, at least at the top of the order, will be alright.

Nathan Lyon sent them both packing within six overs of each other. First a teasing floater dragged Markram out off his crease, then de Kock was lured into an ugly swipe at one that offered a tame catch to short third man.

But the platform was set at 114/2 and du Plessis and van der Dussen piled in with 153 third wicket runs from just 153 balls.

No South African had scored a World Cup ton before today. The skipper put that right with a 100 runs that emphasised his pedigree. The scampered single that brought him three figures ended with him dropping his bat. He celebrated with his helmet off and both arms raised above his head, allowing himself a moment of indulgence in a campaign that has been largely disappointing.

He wouldn’t add to his score and instead passed the baton to van der Dussen, a man some within the press box and social media have touted as the next in line to skipper the side.

He deserved a hundred today but he wouldn’t get one, falling five runs short caught on the boundary off the final ball of the innings. But his knock that included four fours and four sixes showed just how good he can be.

Imran Tahir (1/59 from 9 overs) opened the bowling in his final ODI for South Africa and bagged a wicket in his second over. Aaron Finch came unstuck to one that held up on the surface and he spooned one straight to Markram at short extra cover.

Usman Khawaja’s stay at the crease was cut short due to a calf injury which may rule him out of the knockouts. That brought Steve Smith to the middle whose every touch of the ball was met with boos and jeers until he was pinned lbw by Dwaine Pretorius (2/27 from 6 overs) in the 7th over.

Burt Warner was resolute. The pantomime villain is also a swashbuckling batter of the highest order and he showed why he is considered one of there premier openers in world cricket.

He counter attacked and bludgeoned 15 fours and two whopping sixes. While he was there, the result remained in the balance.

Pretorius has been a bits and pieces member of this squad. And while hindsight is of course 20/20, there may be a few wondering what could have been had he played more over the last six weeks. He nabbed Warner’s wicket in the 40th over with his first ball of his new spell. Smith and Warner; not a bad day’s work for the lanky all-rounder.

When Carey departed in the 46th over - well caught by Markram in the deep off Chris Morris (1/63 of 9 overs) - the result became a near certainty.

Kagiso Rabada put in his best performance of the competition with a return of 3/56 from his 10 overs and Andile Phehlukwayo chipped in with 1/19 off 2.2 overs.

South Africa leave with some pride restored but will no doubt consider the missed opportunities and substandard performances of the past. A few more displays like the one today, especially with the bat, and their stay in the UK might have lasted just a little longer.

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