<
>

Good, but not nearly good enough

If a team that has already qualified for the quarter-finals beats an opponent that was tipped to go home after the group stage, what does the victory really mean? That might be what South African fans are asking themselves.

South Africa finished the group stage with a win that that went according to script but did not actually change the story ahead of the knockouts. At the outset, they were denied the opportunity to rewrite their record so far - bat first and win, chase and cho....However, they could only colour in the lines with the pens they had been given.

On that score, South Africa may not be too pleased with what they achieved in preparation for the knockouts. They did not have their first-choice XI on display because Faf du Plessis was forced out with a lower-back niggle, their bench only gave them more questions than answers, and the players they needed to produce solid performances did not.

Quinton de Kock remains the blot on the page. Although he made his highest score of the tournament so far and received the vociferous backing of his captain, his 26 was scratchy and served to show what Graeme Smith suggested earlier in the week: he need a break. .

The spotlight is burning on de Kock and he is anxious, so much so that he is forgetting to move his feet half the time and when he remembers, it looks dangerously close to being to the detriment of the man at the other end. He almost ran Rilee Rossouw out three times; twice turning him back when the run was on and once setting off and then changing his mind. He remained rooted to his spot and flashed hard when he could have run the ball along the ground and into the gaps. His only properly convincing shot was a cover drive in the 10th over.

If South Africa were hoping this match would help de Kock get into a better state of mind ahead of the knockouts, it would only have done the opposite, especially as he continues to see his team-mates thrive. Both Rossouw and Farhaan Behardien were fluent at the crease, Rossouw aggressively so upfront and Behardien at the end, where he has may have done enough to lay claim to the finisher's role.

Behardien may not immediately strike as a big hitter but that could be because he has not had too many opportunities. Even though his chance was limited again today, when he was called in the 43rd over, he made the best use of the 31 balls he faced. The World Cup now knows Behardien can slog, and that is what South Africa may want their No.7 to do.

That Behardien's four overs with the ball only cost 11 runs will boost his chances of playing in the knockouts even more, because he helped keep the fifth bowler tidy, to ease South Africa's concerns in that department. Behardien, JP Duminy and AB de Villiers bowled 10 overs between them which cost 38 runs and resulted in three wickets. That is a much improved showing from the Pakistan game when the fifth bowler, made up of Duminy and de Villiers, conceded 77 runs for one wicket.

But the numbers do not tell the full story here because the approach of the batsmen in the two games was completely different, and South Africa need to be careful not to believe they have totally plugged the gap. UAE were not actually chasing the target, they were chasing their own target, and that was not South Africa's fifth bowler as has been the case with other teams. UAE wanted to bat out 50 overs, no matter how many runs they scored in that time. They ignored scoreboard pressure because it was irrelevant to their aims and so they were content to see off as much as possible, not score off it.

South Africa's attack still relies on the three prongs of pace and they cannot afford any of their seamers to have an off day in the knockouts. That is perhaps why the reliability of Vernon Philander remains a more attractive option than either Kyle Abbott, who has had a good tournament so far but can be expensive, or Wayne Parnell, whose erratic tendencies were on display against India.

Philander has control when containing and the nagging lines and lengths he bowls, especially on a surface that offers a little something, are laced with danger too. He showed that against UAE, where Abbott and Parnell were not able to make claims of their own. Philander seems to be the way South Africa will go in the knockouts.

While South Africa were able to sample combinations against UAE, they were not able to test themselves under pressure, because UAE did not put them under any. Similarly, they could not really examine whether they have indeed moved on from the defeats to India and Pakistan. De Villiers insists they have, but the only proof of that will come when next when South Africa are chasing.

For now, what we know is that South Africa have mastered the art of one style of play: pile on runs against weaker opposition and defend it. They have done that against Zimbabwe, West Indies, Ireland and now UAE. Every time, they have done it excellently.

But great scripts are not written along predictable lines, and South Africa will have to show there is a twist in their tale if they want to take home the trophy.