Singed South Africa grapple with future

Empty the lungs. Scream. Empty the heart. Sob. Empty the minibar. Hell, don't stop there. Empty the main one too.

Whatever the South African squad and their supporters did in the hours after their horror-movie defeat in the semi-final - and it may well have included some of the above things - did not blot out the sun. It rose, as Russell Domingo said it would, golden and glaring, and forced them to face the next day. The future.

It is too soon to tell how many changes it will hold, it is not too early to know there will be some.

"Life goes on," AB de Villiers said more than once at his post-match press conference. Those three words are supposed to offer comfort in times of chaos, but the tone with which de Villiers delivered them served as a clue for what may come.

De Villiers is 31 and carries a chronic back problem. It does not take a crystal ball to know this was probably his last chance to win a World Cup. At the moment, the moon probably seems closer and a more attractive destination to him than 2019.

Morne Morkel would say the same. He pragmatically spoke of this as his final 50-over tournament before it started, with the knowledge his body may not be able to get him to another. Others in that age group will have similar thoughts, now made worse by broken hearts.

Hashim Amla, Faf du Plessis, JP Duminy, Farhaan Behardien, Vernon Philander and Imran Tahir are all in that bracket. Some of them may see the next World Cup, but all of them as a group will not. That may explain why they were so distraught on Tuesday night, and why Dale Steyn seemed even more severely so.

"If the team needs two wickets, I'll take those wickets. If the opposition needs five runs off the last over, I'll make sure they only get two. Whatever it takes."

That's what Steyn said mid-tournament, when questions were being asked about whether he was off his best. He wanted to be South Africa's hero, he vowed that he would be, but circumstances conspired against him. He began the tournament with flu that kept him out of some of the early training sessions, and almost ended it with a hamstring tweak in the last over of the semi-final.

To see South Africa's most revered quick since Allan Donald floored like that was eerily reminiscent of how Donald's playing days ended. At a World Cup. Physically injured. Mentally broken.

That might mean the core of the South African team may be dismantled as they sort through the scar tissue of this World Cup. What do the likes of de Villiers and Steyn have left to play for in this format? The harsh reality is: nothing. Instead, they may see it as their responsibility to usher in the next generation while minimising the excess baggage, and there will lie South Africa's biggest challenge. The fingers of another generation have been singed, and it's the generation that will need to take a leading role at the next event.

Quinton de Kock is only 22. He could have as many as four World Cups left in him. David Miller, Rilee Rossouw and Wayne Parnell are 25. Two or three more, possibly. Kyle Abbott is 27. One more? Luckily none of them were too close to the final heartaches, and if their burns are tended to quickly, they could heal.

De Kock struggled for form all tournament but found it again. Rossouw and Miller contributed valuable runs, and Parnell only played once. Abbott may even be itching for a chance again. In the coming years, with bilateral series aplenty in the plans, they should get more than enough opportunities. For now, they will just enjoy a bit of a break from national duty. Most of them have IPL commitments, and the quick changeover could help ease the memory of how they picked their seniors off the floor.

It will also give the South African administration time to take stock of their backroom staff. Domingo's contract, which was initially due to expire at the end of this World Cup, has been extended before it started to guarantee him job security irrespective of the outcome of the tournament. He has only just started making the team his own, and he will probably want to see where he can take it, even if it is with a different support staff.

Early indications are that Donald may be the man to go, although not because another botched World Cup campaign has blighted his enthusiasm. Family pressures have mounted on Donald, and South Africa have been grooming a replacement alongside him. Charl Langeveldt was brought in during the West Indies series, at first just to learn about the set-up, and then taken to the World Cup as a specialist death-bowling coach.

It's difficult to think of reasons to do away with assistant coach Adrian Birrell, who has worked tirelessly with the team and is fondly regarded as a father figure by many of them. At one training session in New Zealand, Birrell joked that he thought of the players "just like my kids", and de Kock retorted by calling him "granddad". South Africa will need that kind of nurturing, especially if this is a time when many more youngsters will be brought in, but they may want to take another at the periphery.

The number of ad-hoc consultants they used during the World Cup was overwhelming. Although some of them served technical purposes, like Claude Henderson with spin, others seemed to be there simply for comfort. Gary Kirsten, Mike Hussey and Mike Horn were all supposed to work on South Africa's mental approach on topics from how to deal with big competition to how to tackle unfamiliar conditions and how to show courage.

South Africa did all of that, but after the semi-final, what they seem to need is time to clear their heads and cushion themselves with support. The latter is coming from the South African people. Overwhelmingly, they have expressed pride in the men who gave it everything.

The sports minister, Fikile Mbalula, who went from making predictions on Twitter during the match that swayed from "victory is certain" to "we are definitely losing this" finished by calling the team "winners in my eyes". Jacques Kallis, who was initially planning to play this tournament, said South Africa did not lose the game, New Zealand won it. Praise came from the likes of Albie Morkel and Ashwell Prince - men who have been there and not done it before too.

As yet, while the team wait in Auckland for a flight that has enough seats for them to go home together, they have not issued an official response. Danielle de Villiers, the wife of the captain, was the first to make a public utterance. "My heart breaks every time I relive what our boys went through last night," she posted on Twitter. "But I have NEVER been a more proud wife and friend."

Like the rest of the players' partners, Danielle is as much a part of the touring party as anyone else. She has long been AB's pillar of support. Now he will need her more than he ever has and she will be there. So will all the parents, children, siblings and friends, who have either travelled with the squad physically or been there in spirit. They call it the Protea Family and their strength lies in that community, which they will remain part of, even if this is the end of the road for those who, when the sun shone on Wednesday morning, did not find it any easier to see.

It will shine again on Thursday and on Friday and next week and next month and next summer. There will be other things to achieve - a four-Test tour of India in November, a four-Test visit from England to take 2015 into 2016, a World T20 next year - and eventually it will get brighter. It always does.