South African pain flows onto Auckland outfield
Dale Steyn went down on the Eden Park pitch. AB de Villiers, Faf du Plessis and Morne Morkel all went down on the outfield around him. When de Villiers got up, the other three stayed down. Even when their team-mates and then members of the South African support staff came to lift them to their feet, they would not move. Only when staying down became too painful too, they stood up.
Then, with Morkel in Wayne Parnell's arms, du Plessis in Amla's, they wept. Together, separately, on camera, off camera, with 40,000 people chanting or in the complete silence inside themselves, they wept. They wept because that was all they had left to do.
"We left it out on the field tonight," de Villiers said. All of it. Every last drop of themselves. "That's all I can ask of the guys. It's obviously painful. It's hurting quite a bit. We're gutted."
South Africa did not hide the pain behind any bravado. They let their tears flow. Even the usually cool Amla allowed the ice to break. There was no shame in this defeat. There was tension, there was fight, there was honour but none of that means anything to South Africa now.
"It doesn't make me feel better at all, not at all, no," de Villiers said when asked if he could take consolation in the epic competition of what has been this tournament's best game. "We play this game to win games of cricket, to take glory home and make a difference to the nation, and we didn't do that. We didn't achieve that."
Was this the worst he had ever felt on a cricket field? "Yes," he said. "But I don't have any regrets about this campaign."
The actual analysis of what went right and what went wrong will be left for another day, or maybe even not at all given that many of the members of this squad will not play another fifty-over World Cup, but in the end, it came down to small moments. "You need a little luck. You need things to go for you. You need to take your opportunities. There is such a small margin between winning and losing," Domingo said. That is what Domingo will have to remind his team more than anyone else.
This time they were not knocked out because they conjured up a defeat from the cauldrons of certain victory but they fell into that tiniest of gulfs where the difference between winning and losing lies. Already Domingo has provided a steadying hand through a tournament of ups and downs, in which South Africa have surfed the full swell. They've been through the expectation, the success, the failure, the success and now the end. "The sun will come up again tomorrow like our coach said numerous times in this tournament," de Villiers said.
Domingo tried to say it again, by putting the emphasis on de Villiers and highlighting the character of the side. "I'm extremely proud of the way the captain has led the side. He's done an outstanding job throughout this campaign. He's backed up his talk with outstanding leadership and outstanding performances," Domingo said. "And I'm so very proud of the effort they put in and the emotions that they left on the field. It's testament to how much it means playing and how much trying to win a World Cup means for them. So if there's any question on commitment, I think that can all be thrown out the window, because that is 15 men committed to cricket there."
But Domingo had to admit that those 15 men "are broken, there's no doubt about it," and that it was a "really, really tough loss for us". De Villiers even took on the heartache of a nation, saying the team felt the pain of the people back home. "We so badly wanted to take that trophy back home, but I guess life moves on." But right now he does not know where the road to recovery even starts.
"I have absolutely no idea what to do from here on in. I don't even know when we're going home. It's going to take some time to get over this," de Villiers said. "As a captain, I'll be there for the guys as much as I can, but there is nothing you can do about it now." Nothing, because everything has been done. And this time even everything was not enough.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent