Boyd Rankin showed his class with two of the three wickets © AFP
Long after twilight had set in, with a few bulbs illuminating the stands, some of the Irish players sat on the dressing-room balcony. Beers in hand, they laughed and chatted. If someone who'd lived in the Guyanese rain-forests and been cut off from civilisation for years had come upon the scene, they might have believed that this was a bunch of park cricketers winding down after a Sunday afternoon hit.
In a World Cup perhaps destined to be remembered for the death of Bob Woolmer, empty stands and superfluous Super Eights games (the last few will mean nothing if Australia, New Zealand, Sri Lanka and South Africa clinch their semi-final places), the Irish have been a refreshing reminder of better days when the TV gods didn't dictate start times and formats, when taking part and giving it your best still counted for something.
They were well beaten in the end, with the steadfast Jacques Kallis ensuring that a mid-innings wobble didn't become the sort of late collapse that nearly cost them against Sri Lanka. And in truth, Ireland are nowhere in that class, except perhaps for Boyd Rankin, whose work with new ball and old was once again pretty special.
"It was a massive toss to lose, I suppose," Trent Johnston, the Ireland captain, said after the game. "I wanted to see the bowlers bowl first. It would have given us a better chance, but having said that, full credit to Boyd who gave us another good start. He was outstanding."
He certainly was, getting AB de Villiers and Herschelle Gibbs to finish with figures of 2 for 26 from his allotted seven overs. The Irish effort certainly impressed Graeme Smith, whose brisk 41 was ended by another stupendous catch from Johnston. "Ireland have done themselves proud," he said. "They might not be winning these games, but they're showing great energy and commitment."
Smith had good reason to be proud of his side as well. Such fixtures aren't called banana skins for nothing, and a reduced-overs game tends to be even more of a lottery. Ireland were disappointed at the fact that the readjusted Duckworth/Lewis target was only eight runs more than they scored - "I am not 100% sure how D/L works," Johnston said candidly, voicing what millions feel - but South Africa recovered superbly after losing de Villiers in the first over.
"We did what we needed to do," Smith said. "It was difficult with the stop-start day. The stoppages suck the intensity out of you." Charl Langeveldt was again among the wickets, and there was a miserly spell too from Shaun Pollock, singled out for such harsh treatment by Australia and Sri Lanka.
"Before that he [Pollock] had two Man of the Series [awards]," Smith said, trying to illustrate how fickle the game can be. "Today was a good day, and he has my full support." And on a day when an experienced and steady hand was required to pilot the run chase, it was another old stager, Kallis, who banished thoughts of an upset.


Jacques Kallis has no plans to change his batting tempo © Getty Images
Pilloried in some of the papers back home for the crime of making 48 from 63 against Australia, Kallis has responded in old-school fashion, with his bat rather than the microphone. Having taken South Africa to within a few inches of the finish line against Sri Lanka, he stuck around to breast the tape this time.
"I've never minded the criticism," he said in his usual undemonstrative way. "There are some lines you don't cross, and some people did when it came to that issue. I know who they are, and I'll remember that in future. I'm not going to change my game because some people are unhappy with it. I have a role to play within the team."
And while he carried out that role perfectly, there was a rare opportunity for Ashwell Prince to show that he's not some stonewaller separating top-order flair from the lower-order cavaliers. He laced 47 from 44 deliveries, and Smith brushed off the suggestion that South Africa might have eased up with the target in sight. "One of our issues has been that numbers five, six and seven have had no real time, except against Australia when the rate was up to 14 an over," he said. "It was important for Ashy to get some time in the middle."
Both teams can now relax a little during the Easter break, and gear up for greater challenges. For South Africa, the next team on the horizon is Bangladesh, conquerors of India. "The six points here are crucial for us," Smith, who wants to leave Guyana with a perfect record next Sunday, said. "We need to win against Bangladesh, hopefully convincingly, and then prepare for three tough games against West Indies, New Zealand and England. To take Bangladesh for granted will be a mistake."
As for Ireland, they have nearly a week off before they can take a crack at another of the elite sides, Stephen Fleming's New Zealand. The chance of them scraping a victory against a top side is remote, but they'll continue to enhance the competition with their spirit and verve. In certain parts of the world, the letter C in the cricket lexicon has come to stand for "contracts" and "commercials". For this bunch of sheep farmers, delivery drivers and textile salesmen, led so admirably by Johnston and Adrian Birrell, it still stands for "character". Long may it stay that way.

Dileep Premachandran is features editor of Cricinfo