The defeated are through, the victors nowhere near close to making it. The peculiarity of South Africa’s 10-run win over England was that the most important matters were settled before the game was.
This final match of Group 1 began with South Africa needing a specific kind of win to make it through to the semi-final stage. Australia’s win over West Indies on Saturday afternoon moved them ahead of the Proteas by two points and a 0.474 advantage on net run rate. It meant that after making it to 189 for two after Eoin Morgan had won the toss and elected to chase, England had to be kept below 131 for Temba Bavuma’s charges to squeeze out of the Super 12 Stage.
It took England 15.2 overs to pass that tally, by which time South Africa had only managed to take three wickets. Rassie van der Dussen’s stellar 94 off 60 deliveries set a tone that was never quite matched in the field. And as much as Morgan will have been annoyed to lose an unbeaten record, the chance to be pushed across 40 overs was a welcome tester ahead of the knockout stages.
Unfortunately, though, there was a cost. Jason Roy’s World Cup looks to be over after sustaining a calf injury that caused him immense physical and emotional grief. It means whoever England meet in the semi-finals (one of either New Zealand, Afghanistan or India), they will do so with a new XI, both in terms of personnel and combinations. Morgan says Roy will undergo a proper assessment on Sunday. But sometimes, the truth is right in front of you.
England had not already qualified for the final four at the start of this match, which seemed more like an administrative quirk given they held top spot all the way through and boasted a handsome net run rate. In fact, if they were bowled out for less than 87, they would have dropped out of the top two entirely. Hence why they continued with their usual team, albeit with Mark Wood replacing the injured Tymal Mills in the express pace role.
South Africa started with a measured approach, taking 40 from their powerplay, for the loss of just Reeza Hendricks (2). The right-handed opener became Moeen Ali’s fifth wicket in the first six overs of matches. Once van der Dussen came to the crease, the scoring rate ticked up. Together, he and Quinton de Kock (34) struck 71, with the right-handed number three providing the bulk of them.
Nine of South Africa’s 10 sixes came in the final 10 overs, six of them in a brutal last five overs in which England’s quicks were ransacked for 71. The only surprise was de Kock not clearing the ropes. His demise in the 12th over, caught down the ground by Jason Roy after mistiming off Adil Rashid, felt like a positive for England considering he had only managed four boundaries in his 27 balls faced.
Markram, though, was more than capable of filling his shoes, thumping 52 from 25, registering the second-fastest half-century of the World Cup, and his sixth in the format. His striking shared the border with van der Dussen, who looked spent by the end having swung that little bit harder after making it to his own 50 from 37.
The pair took 21 off Chris Woakes’s fourth over, 11 and 13 off Wood’s third and fourth, then 16 off Jordan in the final over. As stunning as their striking was, it was an indiscipline effort from England’s quicks. They looked rattled and uncharacteristically tetchy: delivering too many in the slot and not managing the shorter boundary at this ground. Those shortcomings spread to the field, with misfields, overthrows, even an unnecessary left-foot volley from Wood gave up free runs. Having looked faultless over the last couple of weeks, it was the kind of display England fans will hope is now out of their system.
England managed to get to 50 for none after five overs, but it was not for no loss. At the start of the fifth, Roy pulled up midway through a seemingly innocuous jogged single, making it to the other end before falling to the floor and putting his glove to his face. Screams of pain gave way to ones of frustration, suggesting the opener, with 20 at the time and 123 overall, knew his World Cup was over.
With three balls remaining of the powerplay, Jos Buttler (26) clubbed Anrich Nortje low to Bavuma, ridding South Africa of their biggest threat and then building on that when Jonny Bairstow was trapped LBW by left arm wrist-spinner Tabraiz Shamsi five balls and one run later. With England effectively 59 for “three”, South Africa had seven more to get within 72 runs.
England’s qualification was secured midway through the 11th with a scuffed single from Moeen. A far cleaner strike over the rope and onto the roof of the stand at long on then took England to 110 to confirm themselves as group winners, whatever the result. With that in the bag, along with a half-century stand ticked off with Dawid Malan (33), Moeen (37) tried to take Shamsi down again but only found the hands of David Miller a couple of feet inside the rope.
It seemed at this point South Africa lost the thread of the crux of this match. Field settings suggested they did not believe they could get the required six wickets within the 21 overs left.
Then came four sixes in a row that quashed South Africa’s hopes altogether. The last three came at the start of the 16th over from Liam Livingstone: 112m out of the ground, then one onto the roof to move England to 137 for three and confirm the end of South Africa’s World Cup. The third, straight down the ground, served as a reminder a game was still to be won outright.
A consolation win arrived in relatively dramatic fashion. With 25 needed from the final 12 balls, Livingstone was caught in the deep by David Miller off Dwayne Pretorious for a blitzed 28 that would have surely stolen England the game had he lasted longer than 17 deliveries. Then, with 14 needed off the final over, Chris Woakes (7) and then Morgan (17) were caught at midwicket and backward square leg respectively off Rabada. Then, as Chris Jordan heaved his first ball down the ground to Miller, a junk hat-trick was confirmed.
Rabada beamed an embarrassed smile, though no doubt feeling a sense of relief having come into the final six with figures of three overs for 45 after his third had been taken for 19. A final set of three for 48 will feel a lot better, as will victory that sees South Africa joint top with eight points. Out of the semi-finals by the skin of their teeth, with reason to believe there are better times ahead.
By contrast, England’s near-flawless Super 12s will give way to having to reassess team balance and squad options as they enter into the business end of this World Cup. They will be without their best death bowler and now one of their best openers. Whoever comes in will do so cold, just as the heat gets turned up.