ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 / News

New Zealand v South Africa, 3rd quarter-final, World Cup 2011, Mirpur

Smith in disbelief after loss

Firdose Moonda at the Shere Bangla Stadium

March 25, 2011

Comments: 94 | Text size: A | A

Graeme Smith is not a small man. He towers above six foot, has shoulders broader than a lock forward, a chest that can puff out even if he is not proud and logs for legs. His personality can be even bigger: the larger than life leader of South African cricket for the last eight years, who will bat with a broken hand and will bounce back, bullish as ever, after a broken heart. Add to that the meaty guffaw and booming voice, and you have a massive character. But, on Friday night, in his last game as captain of the one-day team, he looked a small, small man indeed.

His gestures, usually open and friendly, were limp. His smile, usually broad, was absent. His frown, usually menacing, had been wiped off, and his eyes, usually alive, were empty. This was a man who was gutted. At the beginning of his post-match press conference, it was almost as though he was battling to speak. Each word was laboured, each breath was long. He had, perhaps a little too literally, been stunned.

"It's hard to describe [how we feel] at such short notice. It's kind of disbelief; I felt that we certainly had what it took to win," Smith said. Few will disagree. South Africa were the team that was talked up as the most balanced unit in this tournament. They had a plethora of options, particularly in the bowling department. It was in that discipline that South Africa shone in the group stages, as the only team to take sixty wickets in six matches.

Their quarter-final was the first match of the tournament in which they did not bowl out the opposition. Still, they restricted New Zealand to 221 for 8, below the average first-innings score of 236 at the Shere Bangla Stadium. Smith showed creativity in the way he rotated the bowlers and used them in short spells; they displayed control and were assisted by a superb show of ground fielding. Smith said he thought they "certainly bowled well enough to win today."

Graeme Smith reacts to South Africa's loss, New Zealand v South Africa, 3rd quarter-final, Mirpur, World Cup 2011, March 25, 2011
Graeme Smith said he could not fault the way his team prepared for the World Cup © Associated Press

The problem came with the bat and, inevitably, with the mind. When Smith and Jacques Kallis were laying the platform for the chase, and then again when AB de Villiers was starting to look in good touch, the win was there for the taking. When Kallis and de Villiers were dismissed, the wobble started. Two hundred and twenty two moved further and further away, and the South African middle order slipped further and further in pursuit of it.

"The batting let us down in the middle period," Smith said. "New Zealand squeezed us, the ball got soft and we needed to show a little more composure in that period." He didn't go as far as saying it was inexperience that cost them, but a middle order consisting of JP Duminy, Faf du Plessis, Johan Botha and Robin Peterson is only powerful if one of them can come off in a big way. Although all capable, they are relatively untested and even though they survived the pressure against India, Ireland and Bangladesh, against a rampant New Zealand, it was too much. "We lost four or five wickets quickly and it's difficult to recover on a wicket like this."

Small as he felt, Smith would not make others feel smaller, and even though he identified the batting as the problem in this game, he was not on a witch hunt and had no more blame to dish out. He maintained that the squad he brought to the subcontinent had given their all and even though they had fallen, they would not be weighed down by South Africa's history of exiting major tournaments in the knockouts. "We've trained hard, we worked on our skills and I cannot fault the way this team has played. When we go homes there's going to be swords and daggers. We are not the only World Cup team that has not gone on to win."

Towards the end of his press conference, Smith had regained some of the confidence that has become synonymous with him over the years. He was still a long way from being a large man, but he had started to show fluency and conviction in what he was saying. He was being frank and honest and that's something South African cricket will need to be after this episode.

It's going to be a long process of rebuilding, not the personnel, but the mindset, and Smith started it before leaving his chair. "We've just got to be honest with ourselves, that we weren't good enough tonight. Simple as that."

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

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Comments: 94 
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Posted by Dummy4 on (March 28, 2011, 17:16 GMT)

They missed Albie Morkel in this line-up... I am pretty sure, they might have even won the WC with Albie in the team!

Posted by Steve on (March 28, 2011, 16:17 GMT)

Smith can go out with his head held high. He is primarily responsible for forging out a world beating team in the last few yrs even when he was not at his best form. He held the team together and instilled self belief and aggressive nature. Hope he can continue to play for a few more yrs as a batsman.

Posted by Sredhar on (March 28, 2011, 15:14 GMT)

Dont compare Smith and Ponting... Ponting is not a gentleman where as Smith is one of the better men in the game.

Posted by Dummy4 on (March 28, 2011, 13:48 GMT)

you know when i look at the match up for the quarters,i pick all the winners in the other games but,New Zealand/South Africa i had a big question mark there, just couldn't pick a winner,New Zealand is a very unpredictable cricket team,so Sri Lanka had better watch out don't ever take them lightly,they know how to squeeze the life out of you to get a win.SA just didn't know that about them.Sri Lanka/New Zealand another big question mark.

Posted by Dummy4 on (March 28, 2011, 13:04 GMT)

The last sentence of the article says it all: not good enough on the day. I think slight complacency, especially devillier's run-out cost them the match.Its not the first time though. Even in ICC CHAMPIONS TROPHY 2002, they were crusing against india chasing 220 odd b4 gibbs got retired-hurt & rest fell apart.Still they r damn good team & have always started as favourites in all WC campaigns, but failed to win any.Its time to accept the fact & move on.

Posted by RAVINDER on (March 28, 2011, 11:10 GMT)

+1 to Srinivasan's comments below.In major tournaments you need to strenghten batting by having at-least batting all-rounder if not proper batsman.This is where Indian has been winning many matches.There is always a need for extra batsman round the corner.

Posted by Dummy4 on (March 28, 2011, 7:44 GMT)

This is were albie needed. Best player in pressure situations in SA campaign. If they replaced the Robin peterson with Albie, they might have won this title. Dhoni didnt let him off from his team (CSK). How SA selectors did it. It hugely paid them off. He is extra batsmen + Handy bowler. Robin spin can be replaced with the Smith or other part timers like Yuvraj. I am sure, in the next world cup. You dont have the same furious Steyn or Morkel in your lineup.

Posted by Pritam on (March 28, 2011, 7:33 GMT)

The two semi final are now very much contarsting...one (Ind-Pak) a high voltage match...another (SL-NZ) a very timid one...If S.A were there in the second then it would have been a great match as well.....

Posted by Dummy4 on (March 28, 2011, 5:23 GMT)

I am still stunned, un happy... why oh why do they do this? best chance they had to win the WC... I am very very sad

Posted by Iain on (March 28, 2011, 2:22 GMT)

South Africa were magnificent in bowling out 6 teams in 6 games in the round robin. The problem is you don't need to take 10 wickets to win a 50 (or 20) over match - you need to get the most runs on the day and they just didn't have the experience in their batting, after no.4, to do that. A load of the middle order with no international experience of the sub-continent conditions was their downfall. They missed a trick leaving Boucher out. They will bounce back as they always do - and if, new favorites, India go on tow win they will take heart in the fact that they will be the only side that beat them in the WC...and it will be a great end to Gary Kirsten's tenure as India's (most successsful?) coach - before he takes on the SA job!

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