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Ken Borland in Johannesburg
April 29, 2007
South Africa have returned home after their World Cup exit, thrashed at the hands of Australia in the semi-finals, with the talk still being very much of what a good game they played.
South Africa lost four of their 10 World Cup matches, finishing fourth in the final Super Eight log, and went down with barely a whimper against Australia in their semi-final, crashing to 27 for five after batting first. One of their losses was to Bangladesh, a result that in all likelihood cost them third place and a semi-final against Sri Lanka, while New Zealand also beat them quite comfortably. But Graeme Smith, their captain, seemed to suggest his team had been hard done by when he spoke to reporters in Johannesburg on Sunday morning after arriving from Washington the night before.
"There have been a lot of lies flying around and people have been making up stories," he said. "It's tough to control things happening outside the team and, although there are no excuses for our loss to Bangladesh, Guyana was the toughest time of the tournament for us due to conditions on and off the field."
While Smith had nothing but praise for the Australian conquerors, he believed South Africa were not far off the blistering pace set by the champions of the last three World Cups.
"Australia are an outstanding unit, they had the best-balanced team and an immense belief in themselves," Smith said. "To win the World Cup, we were always going to have to beat Australia, but they beat us on the day in the semi-final.
"But we pushed them hard and in St Kitts in the group game we had a real opportunity to beat them chasing 370 on a small ground. We could have done better finishing that game off, but once Australia get their noses ahead, they close out games very well."
For coach Mickey Arthur, whose initial two-year contract is now up for review, the World Cup capped what he described as an "unbelievable season".
"I know people say losing the semi-final is like kissing your sister, but we can take huge positives out of the World Cup," Arthur said. "It's been an unbelievable season . The team lost just seven of their 19 one-day internationals; they reached the semifinals of both the Champions Trophy and the World Cup; they won two Test series and the ODIs attached to those and we claimed the No. 1 ranking at the right time, just before the cut-off date." Arthur confirmed that he would like to continue as coach for a minimum of another two years.
"I would certainly like to go on for another two years and I have sat down with the review committee and we've had a preliminary chat about that," he said.
Arthur also refuted charges that South Africa had blundered tactically, especially in the semi-final, with their all-out aggressive approach to batting.
"That's how you have to play one-day cricket these days, you have to be very positive," he said. "Both Smith and Kallis came down the pitch in previous matches and it came off. It just didn't work on the day in the semi-final."
Cricket South Africa is, according to Gerald Majola, the chief executive, probing the reasons for South Africa's inconsistency in the World Cup, but Steve Elworthy, the body's commercial and communications manager, warned that a disillusioned South African public should not expect knee-jerk reactions.
Post-mortems are always an unpleasant task and the search for scapegoats may not be as enthusiastically or easily pursued as it was after South Africa's 2003 World Cup disaster which ultimately cost captain Shaun Pollock, coach Eric Simons and convenor of selectors Omar Henry their jobs. Arthur is expected to continue for a second term and Smith, after a strong showing with the bat in the World Cup, has also shown that he has the backing of his team.
That, and the lack of obvious contenders for either the captaincy or coaching position, means that the man whose position is most under threat is probably the current selection chief, Haroon Lorgat.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Stats highlights from the fourth ODI between India and West Indies in Dharamsala