Consolation cannot begin, not for the man who made 141 runs and yet had to resign himself to his team being relegated to the bottom and out of the tournament.
At a time when the picture above should have made headlines, it was the England banner that was flying high. The atmosphere as South Africa began their chase of 323 was electric. Irrespective of the fact that South Africa was chasing something in the realm of the near impossible, the local crowd got behind their team and egged them on. The England fans were outnumbered as were their voices.
Surging from a desperation to not let his team see a humiliating knock out in another prestigious ICC tournament as well as the supreme self confidence that it could be done, Smith went on graciously and courageously about the job of taking his team to the next level.
That the ICC rankings, ODIs and Tests, matter little in the context of such an event where teams stand an equal chance was brought to bear as South Africa, coming back from a two month lay off, struggled to get all their bearings right. And they were paying heavily once again, as favourites but ones also harshly termed as “chokers”.
Did they choke? No. And that is not a South African speaking. That is a cricket lover talking. South Africa faltered in executing their plans, but that it could even be attributed to nerves in a pressure match situation is not applicable here. South Africa’s bowlers took longer to get into rhythm, one would have to say – many did not get it right right through the three Group B matches that South Africa were involved in, and it put too much pressure on their batsmen, although South Africa have shown a rather peculiar relish for chasing as much as they have for defending in the early days.
Smith had once famously said about Doug Bollinger during South Africa’s tour to Australia, “Any guy who is going to try 150,000% in this game is someone we’re going to have to respect.”
There is little doubt that what Smith did for South Africa at Centurion was not a per cent less. But as the captain, the cliche was tested of whether a captain is only as good as his team. It appeared Smith had stood to undo the day’s wrongs, only he couldn’t find another equally robust individual to stand the ground with him, doing more would have been a bonus because Smith was determined to win it single handedly.
Had South Africa pulled it off, perhaps a lot of little details would have slipped off the radar. Now matters that need not even be tinkered with will be magnified in the aftermath of the defeat. And South Africa’s brutal tag of “chokers” will once again hit headlines. But it will only be for want of understanding the nuances of the game that a myopic label will once again be reiterated.
The ICC has suffered a major blow in the midst of raising the profile of the 50 over game. South Africa’s hunt kept the fans and cricket aficionados glued to the action and fifty overs did not seem long enough to appreciate Smith’s stance.
South Africa are struggling in ironic ways – their hosting abilities are indubitably an asset. However, perhaps they will not bid for hosting rights given that South Africa suffered similar stumbles during the 2003 World Cup and the 2007 ICC World Twenty20. One can only hope from a South African perspective that the 2010 FIFA World Cup will not see South African football suffer similar fate as far as hosting is concerned, although the team is not finding too many takers.
The opportunity to see such big match men will be lost now with the hosts team now out of the tournament at the league stage itself. It will be a blow for a tournament that is struggling to justify the numbers at the ground. Apart from the India-Pakistan clash, perhaps only a South African campaign could fill in the stadiums with the same magnitude.
In that sense, it is a setback not only for the tournament but also, for cricket itself to have a top team tumble out. It will raise issues about whether South Africa should have been playing the ICC Champions Trophy as their first campaign coming out of the Southern Hemisphere winter. But like Smith stated, there cannot be any excuses, not at this level. If they could not do it in three matches, they did not deserve to go further.
It is a sad, honest truth from the South African captain, one, even as a South African fan, one would find it is a bitter pill to swallow.