Australia v South Africa, 2nd semi-final, St Lucia April 25, 2007

Anxious South Africa fall to mindless adventure

A disappointing World Cup has just got worse. Just when it seemed a World Cup semi- final couldn't get any lower than the first one, it did



Poor shotmaking was to blame for South Africa's demise. Graeme Smith charged Nathan Bracken after facing only four balls © Getty Images

A disappointing World Cup has just got worse. Just when it seemed a World Cup semi- final couldn't get any lower than the first one, it did. Sri Lanka's win over New Zealand contained a sublime first half and at lunch the prospect remained of an exciting finish. Today, the game was over as a contest in the first ten overs.

The difference between Australia and the rest in this tournament has been even broader than Matthew Hayden's bat, but they didn't need to bring out their best today. South Africa beat themselves thoroughly. All the talk about calming the mind and playing with confidence and patience came to a sorry pass in the morning when they batted like wrecks.

A positive mindset has been the hallmark of South Africa's one-day game, but, faced with an opponent superior to them in skill and mind, their batting descended to mindless adventure. They seemed over-wrought and over-anxious, and fell to a succession of poor strokes. Their premier batsmen set the tone.

Graeme Smith's one-day batting is based on bludgeoning. Predominantly an onside player, Smith has, in recent times, acquired the ability to free his arms and hit over the top on the offside. He did so successfully and repeatedly in the second half of his innings against England. But after choosing to bat on a pitch unknown to them, he decided to give Nathan Bracken the charge in the third over. He had faced only four balls.

But no dismissal was more symptomatic of a plan gone awry than that of Jacques Kallis. Even though he had been South Africa's most prolific batsman, the pace of his batting had invited more than a few questions. When these teams met earlier in the tournament, Kallis' 63-ball 48 was deemed to have terminally halted South Africa's victory charge. And before this match, Ricky Ponting had launched his own psychological warfare by letting the world know that Kallis was the man Australia wanted to get to the crease early.

Kallis did come in early, but obviously he had decided this was the day to change a reputation. The first seven balls fetched merely a single, but off he went with the eighth, stepping out and wide of the stumps to carve, of all people, Glenn McGrath between cover and point. Ditto the next ball. The difference: the ball was full, Kallis missed, and it hit off. "Their top order batted exactly the way we wanted them to," Ponting said after the match.

Inevitably, the "choking" question came up post-match. Smith was expecting it

McGrath bowled as well as he always does, but the wickets were earned easily. Ashwell Prince, the other batsman expected to hang around in a crisis, played the daftest of strokes, slashing a wide one to make the score 27 for 4, and when Mark Boucher hung his bat out next ball, the match was up for South Africa. The innings ended fittingly when Charl Langeveldt swung wildly at a full delivery. Six overs remained, and at other end stood Justin Kemp, South Africa's highest scorer, on 49.

Of the Australian bowlers, Shaun Tait, who was drafted in as the strike bowler in Brett Lee's absence, was the most impressive. He has been Australia's most expensive bowler among the specialists, but with 23 wickets, he is their most successful behind McGrath, who has a World Cup record of 25. Tait bowled with pace and curved the ball into the right handers. One such ball squeezed between leg stump and the pads of Herschelle Gibbs, one of the two South African batsmen to play with any measure of poise.

It was South Africa's lowest one-day score in a World Cup and, inevitably, the "choking" question came up post-match. Smith was expecting it. "I wouldn't say we choked," he said. To him, choking meant blowing a winning situation. But what about freezing on the big stage?

Once again, South Africa were not able to play their best game in a big match. Their top order combusted and eight of their batsmen got themselves out. It was a massive under-performance that added to the emptiness of the World Cup. Their reputation will persist.

Sambit Bal is the editor of Cricinfo and Cricinfo Magazine