"We left everything out there, and that's all I can ask for as a captain, that the guys fought," said a resigned Faf du Plessis as South Africa's hopes of reaching the 2019 World Cup semi-finals virtually ended after the New Zealand defeat.
These sound like the words of a defeated person, someone, who doesn't know what to do and wants to get over with the misery soon. And, coming from du Plessis, a warrior in every sense of the term, it is sad. The Proteas have always been termed 'chokers' for their history of bottling up when it mattered the most but this year, the didn't even get the chance to bottle and the heartbreak continued for the team from Africa.
While they came to England with much promise, their performances and decision making hasn't helped their cause and after six games, they are staring at elimination.
So, what went wrong for Faf & Co.?
South Africa's batting has always been the talking point ever since AB de Villiers decided to call it quits and after a year of trying and testing, there is still no answer to the question. On Wednesday, after being put in to bat, South Africa lost Quinton de Kock early and Faf du Plessis walked in to accompany Hashim Amla, someone, who has struggled to hit the meat of the bat and at this point, it was hurting to see someone of his calibre struggling so bad. Amla did score a fighting 55 but his strike-rate of 66.27 when he got out in the 28th over meant that the Proteas were already looking at an uphill task of putting a big score on the board. Rassie van der Dussen (67) and David Miller (36) did provide them with some impetus but all they could manage was 241 from the allotted 49 overs and in the end, Kane Williamson's masterful innings proved enough for New Zealand to win by 4 wickets.
And, this has been their main problem. South Africa's continuous persistence with Amla has pushed Aiden Markram to the middle-order and after a slow start in every innings, the middle-order has failed to absorb the pressure and score runs -- something that De Villiers did so well. With AB offering to come back and the request denied, the team management would be in deep thought now as to if that was a right decision or not. Markram was Amla's direct replacement at the top with JP Duminy coming in the middle-order and that would have opened up the whole batting order, thus, allowing not only De Kock but others as well to play without scoreboard pressure but backing the 36-year-old has come at a cost and it is a heavy one because top to bottom, nobody has been able to score runs freely.
Du Plessis, coach Ottis Gibson and convenor of selectors Linda Zondi might have taken the right decision at that moment regarding AB but the tough call might have cost them the World Cup this time around.
Throughout the six matches, out of which one was a washout, the highest score by a South African has been 68 by De Kock against both Afghanistan and England and that is alarming. In total, out of five matches, with one being a washout, the Protea batters have breached the 300-run mark once and that came in a losing cause against Bangladesh.
So, it has been their batting and inconsistency that has let them down and things look bleak going forward until and unless tough calls are not made.
However, if we shift focus from the main villain, the bowling hasn't set the world on fire as well.
While losing the likes of Dale Steyn and a fiery pacer in Anrich Nortje prior to the tournament is never a good way to start, in Kagiso Rabada, Chris Morris and Lungi Ngidi, they had a potent attack. But, injury struck again and Ngidi suffered an injury as well and they were reduced to mainly Morris and Rabada and they never turned up.
Among Rabada and Morris, they have picked up just 15 wickets with Morris grabbing 9. Behind Morris, Andile Phehlukwayo is the second most successful with 7 wickets to his name. It's an attack that has lacked teeth throughout. Maybe because of the burnout or maybe the conditions have not helped them enough but whatever it is, the tournament has been a sorry one for a team that promised so much.
This time around, there was no choking because the opportunity never arrived. With just three games to go, qualification for the semi-finals are as good as over but pride remains to be salvaged and du Plessis and his men would look to go out with some when they leave the English shores after their last match against Australia on July 6