New Zealand v South Africa, World Cup 2015, 1st semi-final, Auckland March 24, 2015

South African pain flows onto Auckland outfield

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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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on March 30, 2015, 9:38 GMT

    All those critical about SA chasing capability, SA is the only team that successfully chased 400+ score that also against AUS. Just because SA has won more games batting first, doesn't mean SA do not know how to chase.

  • carl on March 27, 2015, 12:49 GMT

    both semis i think the losing teams/captains made the same bad decision that cost them the game. the immortal captains batted too low down the order. imagine kohli and dhoni batting together, would be powerful partnership maybe worth 200, or ab in at no. 3 to 'construct' an innings as steve smith did for aust. tick the runs over, then allow miller and himself to go nuts, they should have both dived in the deep end, not get in the shallow end and walk slowly to the deep where the difference, lead from the front, inspire the team, saf could have won any of the wc since 92 but have always found a way to lose, is hard to understand

  • Mashudu on March 26, 2015, 13:11 GMT

    As a Proteas fan, I was too emotional to post anything yesterday.... The grace displayed by the Kiwi players on the field yesterday was truly humbling... Grant Elliot's words at the post match interview were the words of a champion... Vettori's actions and the words and behaviour of Brendon MacCullum were all things that make this game what it is... Play hard but be gracious in victory and in defeat... Well played NZ; you deserve your victory.... I will be shouting for you in the final... Thanks to all cricket fans here for the comforting words to Protea fans... I copy pasted some of these comments and sent them to some of my colleagues...

  • Dummy4 on March 26, 2015, 12:50 GMT

    As an Englishman I'd say South Africa did their nation proud, but lost narrowly to a very good team in a fantastic game, played in a great spirit (for which credit to both teams). There should be no recriminations over this loss.

  • dj on March 26, 2015, 8:27 GMT

    We all felt that loss for our boys #ProteasCWC2015 and it took me a while to get over, and I am still heartbroken and disappointed. It would have been so completely different had the game gone the other way round but did not, so I still sulk. :-(

    Ultimately NZ outplayed us and we didn't do too badly. We just did not win this particular game. You loose some, and then you loose some more. Hats off for giving a good performance in the semi's. I was always very concerned considering our entire campaign of this CWC, so I was merely hoping and praying that all goes well.

    I feel for ABD as he was our standout for this CWC2015. Great Fight ABD, he, ABD did single out NZ as favourite before the start of the CWC (during a time when NZ were not doing too well) ...there you go!

  • Dummy4 on March 26, 2015, 7:48 GMT

    To everyone blaming the rain for Africa's loss....they won the flaming toss for goodness sake...don't tell me no one was monitoring the weather?

    The truth is, they know they can not chase runs....NZ ran down 300 in 43 overs, having lost the toss, great game to watch, but lets not talk about South africa's bad luck....thats cricket, you take your moments. NZ deserved the win.

  • Ben on March 26, 2015, 2:24 GMT

    It was an epic game and although South Africa played their part and were unlucky with the rain break in the end it was a bit of a failure of a world cup for them. The only good side they beat was Sri Lanka. NZ on the balance of things deserved to make the final, the South Africans probably didn't.

  • Dummy4 on March 26, 2015, 2:20 GMT

    South Africa play hard and they play fair and you can't ask for much more than that. New Zealand won the game, but cricket was the winner and this was a game for the ages and will be talked about for years to come. Hold your heads high South Africa, you were a delight to watch and your day will come.

  • Jon on March 26, 2015, 0:13 GMT

    12 runs in hand, six balls to go. And they choked. Again. Two botched run-outs. One dropped catch. Their nerves cracked. They choked. As usual. What hurts is that they bluffed themselves that their choking days were behind them. They're not.

  • mick on March 25, 2015, 22:55 GMT

    Toshakar Jha on March 25, 2015, 10:32 GMT

    S Africa lost to India Pakistan and now new zealand.so in fact they doesn't deserve world cup.

    Yes I agree with that, even in paper SA is not the best Team...

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