South Africa v West Indies, Champions Trophy, Group B, Cardiff June 14, 2013

De Villiers relief as SA finally edge one

The South African fielders rushed off the Cardiff outfield as soon as the umpires made it clear they wanted the covers on. Dwayne Bravo and Darren Sammy did not want to leave but were forced to.

In the few minutes between the playing and officiating personnel walking off, the groundstaff walking on and the announcement that the match was over, there was only rain. And silence. And maybe some confusion.

Not everyone knew that if play was interrupted after the scheduled close, the match could not resume. By the time they found out, South Africa were nowhere to be seen. Imagine the scenes if we could have spotted them.

Would they have been jumping around, high-fiving each other with delirium? Would Dale Steyn, who took the catch that dismissed Pollard, give one his trademark, angry-man, fist-pumping celebrations? Would they have been whooping and dancing? Or would there have been quiet recognition?

AB de Villiers' press conference demeanour suggested the last of those. South Africa did not seem to celebrate their qualification to the semi-finals as though it was a victory. Just as well, because it was not. Their tied game against West Indies could have been a defeat had one ball gone differently and they knew that.

For them, it was just relief and finally, a sprinkling of luck. "It feels great. We've been on the wrong side of these kinds of matches in the past quite a few times and I have been part of a few teams that's been on the wrong side," de Villiers said. "What makes me more happy is that I thought we played really good cricket most of the game today."

South Africa did not always bowl particularly well but conditions were tricky. Apart from the calibre of batsmen they were facing and the danger in missing a length by a fraction, the wet weather added a different challenge.

"It had been raining the whole time, for the half an hour prior to when the umpires called it off, and that made it difficult to know when the umpires were going to call it," de Villiers said. "It made it difficult because it was getting heavier, the ball got really wet and it became really difficult for me to communicate with the bowlers out there, it was windy and I thought it got quite dangerous and slippery."

De Villiers showed much improved leadership in the way he managed his bowlers, particularly Steyn, who lived up to his reputation as leader of the attack. "He is definitely an X-factor for us. I called on him a few times today, especially the last spell into the wind and he picked up a wicket," he said. "He handled the pressure well and the way he gave his best for the team was very inspiring."

Perhaps even more inspiring for South Africa's long-suffering fans who have watched them stumble in major tournaments in incidents as exactly the same as today's will be that the team prevailed this time. The intent of their batting stood out for de Villiers. "I don't think our batting can get much better than it is now," he said.

While they do not have any century-makers they have had contributions from everyone. "We know there is a lot of strength in our batting line-up and I am looking forward to seeing that come through in the next knockout games," de Villiers added.

Those matches are the important ones for South Africa, who have not won an ICC trophy for 15 years. Although he was not too boisterous in saying it, he believes the tide has turned and this was the start of it.

"We are not the kind of team to hide from the fact that we lost important games in the past. But we didn't do that today and we didn't do that in the last game either so the last two knockout games in a row, if we win the semi-finals, need I say more," he asked, cheekily, before laying down a gauntlet.

"We believe we can win and we have really felt the support from back home. There's no doubt in my mind, we will go out there and give it our best shot, play to our full potential and it's going to be up to a few other teams out there to they and stop us."

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments