England v SA, World T20, Group 1, Chittagong March 29, 2014

South Africa learn the art of survival

South Africa are in the semifinals and they have already won three tight contests, the latest to eliminate England. Can they survive the pressure this time?

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Sssshhh. Nobody tell South Africa this was actually a knockout match. They already know the next one is and they can't handle that sort of that pressure. Or can they?

Twice before in this tournament they sneaked through in tense chases. Another South African side - take your pick from the class of the '99 World Cup to the ones of the World T20 2014 - would have fluffed one or probably both of those. This South African side did not but still they earned very little praise for their efforts.

The armchair critics found fault with everything from the composition of the batting line-up to which bowlers were being selected - and most of it was justified. South Africa relied on a combination of fortune and fumbling from the other side. They did not look convincing and they knew it.

"We hadn't played really well up until tonight," AB de Villiers, who stood as captain for the suspended Faf du Plessis, said.

With that in mind, South Africa had to rectify their issues against England because their would be no second chance. Although the bowlers sent down 10 extra deliveries with nine wides and a no-ball in challenging conditions in which the dew was so dense it could have been mistakes for rain, the batsmen showed what they are capable of when their plan comes together.

A solid start followed by the best batsmen in the side, AB de Villiers, coming in at No. 3 can produce the sparkling results some predicted a South African team with the personnel they have at their disposal should be able to dish up.

Stuart Broad called de Villiers' knock match defining. "The whole game was pretty much reliant on AB's knock," he said. De Villiers called it soul defining. "I've been sitting on the side for the last three games and not doing well. I've spent a few nights lying in bed, thinking about my batting and why it's not going well. I was very motivated to help my team get over the line."

De Villiers is at his best, not when he is batting at No. 3 but when he believes he is representing something bigger than himself. That is what he had to do in this match. "I'm not sure if it's about the position you bat in," he said. "I came in after the 10th over which is what the coaching staff want."

Responsibility was on him to make sure that Faf du Plessis, the man he gave the T20 captaincy to in December 2012, but who was suspended here, could lead in another game.

"That was more of a reason for me to be motivated and make sure we go to the semis," he said. "I wanted to give Faf the opportunity to take the team further."

When he passed 30 for the first time in ten innings, taking 14 off Jade Dernbach's comeback over, he showed his intent to do that. De Villiers played an astonishing range of shots that included the reverse paddle and a six over the leg-side which left Broad on his knees, almost literally. He said it was not part of a targeted assault on the bowler; just a desire to get going.

"We hadn't had a lot of big overs up until then. I felt settled. I read him well and unfortunately for him his execution wasn't spot on."

Wayne Parnell, the bowler South Africa slotted straight back into the XI following his return from testifying at a Mumbai court, almost had similar problems when his third over when for 11 but by then he had already done the damage. Including him was the second thing South Africa got right after not quite getting the balance of their bowlers correct in previous matches.

Parnell was included at fellow left-armer Lonwabo Tsotsobe's expense and de Villiers indicated they will stick with him as crunch times looms. "He is an absolute match-winner. I would love to have him in my team every day and I think we've seen very little of what is to come from him."

What is to come is what everyone is waiting for because this is where South Africa's real test starts. They are into the final four and the talk they have wanted to avoid will begin. They will be reminded that they have not won a knockout match at an ICC event in 16 years, since their victory in the Champions Trophy predecessor in 1998, just as they have been reminded of their failings at major tournaments at every one after that.

If they approach it with the same nonchalance they have all the chiding they have received so far, the people they may end up surprising the most will be themselves.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on March 31, 2014, 9:24 GMT

    ROD TUCKER- third umpire when Kallis given out caught wiyh hand not on the bat. In England match signalled wide when batsman hit it(cost England 7)e and the Hales debacle that could have cost SA the match. Come on ICC how do you allow incompetents to repeatedly ruin games?

  • Dummy on March 30, 2014, 16:53 GMT

    Ab is play remaining match best innigs then 2 match then win this cup(trophy)

  • Android on March 30, 2014, 8:00 GMT

    it was a good fight put by England. England should take the notes that what went wrong given the amount of runs they scored. 170+ 180+ 190+ but they still end up loosing matches. Why is Bopara not allowed to bowl his overs during middle overs? why is Ali underbowled and why does Broad himself not bowl in end overs-a point raied by @gramesmith on Twitter.

  • Android on March 30, 2014, 7:28 GMT

    well done South Africa and to England you have put up the first to the end, but too little too late.

  • Rahul on March 30, 2014, 7:22 GMT

    I think Faf should take a lot of credit for SAF doing well in alien conditions against some very good opponents. That too in close matches of ICC event which has been SAF Achilles hills. SAF needed someone solid with calm head leading them and marshaling the top class performers at their disposal. In the recent close matches Faf showed a cool head and backed his bowlers to defend the total. He also took some outstanding catches when the pressure was on. SAF has worlds best bowler and batsmen in Steyn and AB. It is not a surprise that they have reached semis. All they need is a cool head who will soak up the pressure of expectations and battle against the chokes done by past SAF teams. Faf seems to be that character. It will be interesting in the semis as they will up against either India or most probably Pak or WI who all feature top class spinners. The real test of SAF begins now.

  • Android on March 30, 2014, 6:56 GMT

    I ve been supporting this team for the past 6 months and I can easily say that they potentially have the brst team in the world. A brilliant batting line up (everyone is a potential match winner) and Dale Steyn as well as Tahir in these sub continent conditions to boot. They are my favourites to win this world cup. Let's hope the chokers tag (which I ll be seeing for the first time in action) won't show up in this tournament. If Pakistan can't win the tournament, I ll be backing South Africa to do it.

  • Mohammed on March 30, 2014, 6:37 GMT

    I read not too long ago somewhere that the other group was tougher, well to be honest whoever stated that can be forgiven for underestimating the quality of cricket that his group has produced. What was almost shocking about this match was that till the last ball was bowled you could not name the winner even with Dale Steyn bowling the last over. It is credit to England's unappreciated talent that we witnessed such riveting games in this group. I was secretly supporting SA and the way the English players were pacing their chase made you wonder what is a safe total? You may make Dernbach the scapegoat but I for one believe that AB was in such a zone that regardless who was bowling he would have clobbered those runs. As with most world cup winning sides its all about peaking at the right time, so far SA is on the right track we will have to wait and see if there is going to be a new winner this time around. All the best to SA, whoever wins this edition deserves the championship.

  • Dummy4 on March 30, 2014, 4:29 GMT

    i think england ' s think tank is not doing good job .they are playing in asia and playing against aside who is not good against spin bowling.they should bring perry in for one of fast bowler.

  • Yogesh on March 30, 2014, 1:48 GMT

    From a US-based Indian fan: this SA team is resilient. More resilient than the teams of the past. They are excellent all around and they have the most unbelievably inventive and destructive batsman in world cricket in great form for them right now: AB De Villiers. With Amla in form, Duminy and others like Du Plessis, they are a fearsome batting unit. Surprisingly, I rate their bowling as weaker than their batting at the moment, with Steyn the only exception. Tahir will be taken apart by Ind or Pak in the semis, and Morkel in T20 goes for runs. This SA team might surprise themselves in this tournament. Watch out, men in blue or the other team in the semis from Group 2 (Pak or WI). Don't take this SA team lightly!

  • Dummy4 on March 30, 2014, 1:17 GMT

    SA is a fab side. Frankly Hashim it is who is giving them the best start inspire if all the criticism about him. They must fint a way to reserve three overs of Steyn post the 10th over mark. That will make him even more effective. Ideally he should be bowing one over in the power plat say the fifth over, then the 12 over and the 18th and 20th overs. Also Hendricks should bown his three overs before the 12 th overs. He bowls only two overs now and the rest after the 14th ... These small adjustments can push the opposition down AB to continue at 3 and Miller at 5. SA has the best chance this championship

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