Another major tournament, another failure
It was not exactly visible in the bright sunshine but Gary Kirsten said a "dark mist" had descended on the South African squad as it arrived home from the World T20. Another tournament, another failure. Of a completely different kind this time.
Not the choke of 1999, 2003, 2007 (twice), 2009, 2010, or 2011. Not a choke at all, in fact. Just poor cricket caused by a combination of poor judgement, selection blunders, and an inability to adjust to conditions and tiredness.
The last time AB de Villiers was in his home country was in early July, when South Africa left for England. Their assent to the top of the Test rankings was foremost in their minds then. In the aftermath of their World T20 exit, it was barely mentioned on their return. They were prepared to acknowledge what went wrong and broke down the reasons for South Africa returning empty handed from Sri Lanka, while also pointing out some positives.
"We said from the outset it's going to be about the quality of our decision-making in key moments and the quality of our execution. We weren't up to the mark when it came to both those things."
"The most important thing for me is managing the guys, knowing who can perform under pressure and who to go to in the right situations. I've got better at that but I'm still not where I want to be with that.
AB de Villiers.
An opening batsman with a clear problem against spin, an unsettled batting line-up, and a reliance on seam were some of the tactical errors South Africa made. It resulted in innings that always started badly because Richard Levi went from unsure to inept and the rest of the order could not stabilise quickly enough. It was also constantly changing and De Villiers often batted too low which meant that South Africa could not post good-enough scores.
Short format, less time
"We should have closed the game out against Pakistan. It is now for us to understand those moments better and knowing that in the T20 version you've got to close those deals very quickly."
Unlike an ODI series, T20 cricket, especially in tournament format, happens fast. Oppositions change every few days, there is little preparation time between matches and there are more on-the-spot decisions to be made in the field. As an inexperienced captain, De Villiers - who has never even led a schools' side - got some of those wrong. Bowling Albie Morkel against Pakistan when Johan Botha was available was one such mistake; not having Jacques Kallis open the batting when convener of selectors Andrew Hudson said he would, was another. Time may help De Villiers improve on those fronts, which he will have to do, because the game isn't getting any longer.
"It's never easy because you are on the road for a long time. But we can't use that as an excuse, all teams are faced with different situations. South Africa have had a fair amount of time off as a cricket nation over the last year."
Professional sportsmen are paid to play sport and if that involved not seeing their own bed, dogs and back gardens (not to mention families) for a while, then so be it. But professional sportsmen are people too. Any person who has to constantly pack and unpack a suitcase, eat a hotel breakfast and watch hours of flat-screen television late at night eventually gets tired of it.
There are those who manage to handle a nomadic existence without tiring. Pakistan, for example, have thrived since international hosting rights were taken away from them. But South Africa, as was evident from the Super Eights match, are not Pakistan. They are not a team that can conjure up class from chaos and make sense out of instability. Previously, they were accused of being run by a schoolmaster-like ship. While that may be harsh, it would not be too much of a leap to say South Africa do sometimes find safety in structure, something they will not get with long periods away from home.
"Look at someone like Farhaan Berhardien, who I think came through outstandingly. He was one of the highlights and showed that, mentally, he can step up to the plate."
Behardien had only played one T20 international before the tournament, but his domestic form has kept him bubbling under for the national team. After the unofficial tri-series in Zimbabwe, he did not look like he could make the step up so soon. But, he showed maturity in holding an innings together against Australia and allowing JP Duminy to play the aggressor's role.
"Robin Peterson is playing better cricket than ever. He is a game-breaker. I can always rely on him to pick up a wicket or two so I bring him on whenever I feel that is the best time for us to pick up a wicket."
AB de Villiers.
At the 2011 World Cup, Peterson was South Africa's highest wicket-taker and earned himself a permanent place in the one-day squad. The more responsibility he's been given, the better he has played. Peterson has a full decade of experience in international cricket to call on and what he learnt in the dressing room is now showing itself on the field.
A fond farewell
"We had a chat to Johan Botha afterwards because we knew it could be his last game. It was quite emotional. He has been a consistent performer for us; he has always worn the shirt with a lot of passion and pride and he was always a team-man. We'll have to move forward and try and replace him with someone else. But, he will be missed."
AB de Villiers.
Seven years of service to South Africa, which included a stint as captain, has come to an end for one of its stalwarts. Botha has been released from his CSA contract and will captain South Australia for the next two seasons. He has accepted that means he is unlikely to play for the national team again. Botha was named Graeme Smith's successor as T20 captain in August 2010 but was replaced by De Villiers.
He remained an important part of the set-up but was pushed to the fringes and, with a Test future unlikely, decided to lengthen his first-class career elsewhere. He will leave behind a legacy of what-could-have-beens, just like many of South Africa's participation in major tournaments.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent