Mahela Jayawardene made no excuses after his team was shot out for only 141 and lost to South Africa by 78 runs, virtually ruling them out of a spot in the semifinals of the Champions Trophy. Instead, he complimented the South Africans on their bowling performance. "The wicket had something in it for the fast bowlers. It was definitely good bowling from South Africa," said Jayawardene at the post-match press conference. "They bowled to a good line and length and kept the pressure on us. It is not that the batsmen played bad shots and got out. But none of us could stay at the wicket for any length of time."
However, Sri Lanka are still hanging on to the slender hope that Pakistan can win their matches against South Africa and New Zealand - and do so convincingly - bringing a three-way tie into place for the second semifinal spot and reducing it to a matter of net run rates.
Graeme Smith, for his part, did not specifically think that this was a good toss to lose. "It was still a good wicket to chase on. With the dew it was difficult for the bowlers to grip the ball and bowl," he said. "We always knew that 220-230 was a good total and we wanted to knock a few over in the first fifteen overs. There was a bit of juice for the first 10 overs and Makhaya [Ntini] and Shaun [Pollock] bowled really well and got us the important breakthroughs. After that everyone got aggressive and we kept the pressure on them till the end."
The combined performance of Ntini, Pollock and Nel - they picked up seven wickets between them - meant that there was no need for Smith to even use Robin Peterson, the young left-arm spinner. "It was going to be very difficult for him to bowl after the ball had got wet in the dew," explained Smith. "The fast bowlers were bowling really well. It was a risk to keep bowling the pacers because we would run out of them by the 40th over. But luckily it paid off."
Smith also suggested that it was the preparation that the South Africans had done in the days leading up to the game, combined with the manner in which they executed their plans, that made all the difference on the day. "We wanted to win the first 30-35 overs of the [second] innings because we had done a lot of homework and knew that Sri Lanka score a lot of runs during that period," he said. "It was important for us to get people like Sanath early. Makhaya and Shaun bowled really well first up and Nel continued from where they left off."
The ageless Shaun Pollock, who walked away with the Man of the Match award for his superb spell of 10-0-21-2, said South Africa's success was not a result merely of his own efforts, but also that of his new-ball partner, Makhaya Ntini. "We were really good together," he said in typically understated fashion. "We had looked at videos in the last few days and sorted out the areas where we wanted to bowl to them. It was good that we carried out the plans we had devised. After myself and Makhaya did our bit, Nel also did his job. It was great for us that he managed to dismiss [Marvan] Atapattu with a great delivery in his first over because Atapattu is the kind of batsman who can play the anchor."
Anand Vasu is assistant editor of Cricinfo