An anti-climatic semifinal clash at a paradoxical World Cup.
This could well be termed the anti-climatic semifinal clash to a paradoxical World Cup. Such has been the sense of despair over the two World Cup semi-final finishes that it is not surprising that commentators were counting the retirees and not counting down the runs required to balls remaining margins!
At the end of the Super 8s, it was almost unanimously believed that the four best teams of the tournament had made it to the final four. Yet only two turned up, in the physical and intellectual sense. In what has become a rather desolate situation for all things Caribbean, both semi-finals turned out unexpectedly a watered down affair. This has led many to speculate if the finals will go against the tide and actually turn out to be a humdinger of a match!
There were two teams on whom cricketing hopes rested most predominantly to create history. It was neither Sri Lanka nor Australia, both veterans of not only the finals but also of lifting the prestigious Cup. Though Sri Lanka has shown supreme strategy and Australia has displayed sheer dominance, sentiments rested heavily on the two teams that have previously infamously stumbled at the semi-final match. The World Cup depended on changing its fortunes on New Zealand and South Africa changing theirs. But at the end of the day, neither made the effort to stick their neck out.
New Zealand played in patches and got patched up and packed up by a resolute Sri Lankan skipper. Mahela Jayawardene lifted his team from the doldrums that James Franklin, not Shane Bond, threatened to sink the island nation into. New Zealands half-hearted efforts ended up in disaster, staring at a hefty target. Then to be treated to red hot sizzlers from Vaas and Malinga was more than New Zealand had bargained for.
The epidemic of this World Cup spread from Jamaica to St. Lucia and the biggest billed blockbuster fell on its face! Many cricket pundits felt that Graeme Smith had put his foot in his mouth when he sounded that he had never seen his team more confident. The team does not have that many veterans to claim that the jinx was playing high in their minds. The sheer number of new faces would mean that their experience would be distinctly different from those of teams that represented South Africa earlier. Their confidence would have suffered a jolt against a tremendously disappointing match against Bangladesh. But confident they would be, since facing Australia has come better to this team than their predecessors. Positive they would be. But beyond the touch of a little trepidation to the point of over confidence? Think not.
How many skippers will come out and say their team is tied in knots and nervous as hell? Only perhaps an oddity like Matthew Hayden whose nervous energy has been well directed this World Cup! However, Hayden, even by his standards, was not required to stretch. South Africa shot themselves in the foot, leaving their fans wishing they had woken up on an entirely different day! (This has not been a good time for the umpires as well considering Ross Taylors dismissal and Herschelle Gibbs tryst.)
Criticism has been heaped on Smith in the same breath that he has been hailed as a dynamic and assertive captain. Perhaps Smith is only overcompensating for the lack of powerhouse talent but equally spirited team. More often than not, Smiths aura as a batsman has converted into the teams body language. The way he batted, dancing down the pitch once to Nathan Bracken and not learning to curb it two balls later only to be dismissed told the entire story of South Africas dismay.
No cricket follower would have even imagined Jacques Kallis to play the shot he did, even in their dreams. Yet on a day like this, premeditated efforts to get on top of the Australia resulted in a heart stopping mayhem where it became hard to believe a score line like twenty-seven for five in under ten overs in such a key match between two strong teams! It took this final match for Justin Kemp to dig in his heels and to his credit, South Africa still came away looking just about modest (although that is hard to do after a game like this). He was ably supported by an unlikely cameo hero in Andre Nel, who was furiously battling not just a fractured thumb but also, seething anger that his more elite batting mates could not do what he was at least surviving to try.
One commentator famously commented that the South Africans are struggling trying to find a way to break the World Cup bogie. This would not be the World Cup and sadly the wait will be another four long years before South African fans prod their tender hearts again to act strong. One just wonders how long it would be possible to hold ones breath!
Matter of waiting to exhale, and it has been long drawn. Perhaps so much so that at the end of the World Cup, West Indies will discover their coffers have not really profited by this exorbitant extravaganza and the cricket world will have miss more than a little sparkle with many of their twinkling stars (led by the brigadier Glen McGrath, Brian Lara, Stephen Fleming, Sanath Jayasuriya, Inzamam, Anil Kumble; the list is endless) turning in for the night and fading into the morning light!