It was Ntinis replacement, Andrew Hall, whose tight stump-to-stump line left few England batsmen at ease.
It took all of South Africas prowess to come to the fore to ensure that the World 2007 Cup would not become an abyss for a team that started the coveted event with the number one tag. But England was never going to prove a serious threat, not unless South Africa gave them a lifeline.
This was one match that the World Cup could not afford to miss. It is important here to also note that it was another decisive match that forced this situation upon South Africa. Those who whimpered that the lowly placed sides had no place in the world had better have a rethink. Had Bangladesh not played up the role of a professional, clinical and enthusiastic cricket unit to perfection, South Africa would have sleepwalked their way to the semi-finals. But in true testimony to the fact that the World Cup was no place for lackadaisical men, South Africa was nearly shown the door for their costly lapse.
Many may argue that that it may not still qualify Bangladeshs presence. Well, to knock one top team in the league stage and to nearly send one of the teams into an outright frenzy; ask one of the other beleaguered teams to outdo them! Opinions can be denied, but not history. South Africa could have earned their points against New Zealand but they did not. The game against Bangladesh was one team that should not have lost to, simply because of the chasm that lay between the two teams. But it is amazing how one can compensate in spirit what one lacks in strength!
Coming back to the crucial do-or-die and potentially the last game in the tournament, South Africa rose remarkably upbeat to crush a bland, uninspiring England. England should have been buoyed by their prospects, given that they still had a match against the West Indies in hand. West Indies has an entirely different story and not all of it had anything to do with the game on the field. But to know South Africa came into the game under tremendous pressure, much of it self-inflicted, should have seen a more relaxed free wheeling England.
But then that is not in keeping with Englands personality. Looking too weighed down by their conservative approach, they played right into the hands of a gleeful South African team. But credit must be given where it is due. It must have been a rather difficult decision to drop Makhaya Ntini. This is perhaps one of those rare occasions when a captain must take the field trusting his instincts and hoping that his decision is vindicated. But South Africa rightly opted to go with form and spirit rather than a preordained name and stature of a player, something India would be wise to adopt if they are to build a team for the future.
Andre Nel has fought for a place in his side and he has backed his conviction with performance. Once more against England, he showed why tempering his behaviour and channeling his aggression towards a deafening bowling performance is not a lesson learnt in waste. But it was Ntinis replacement, Andrew Hall, whose tight stump-to-stump line left few England batsmen at ease. Picking up the crucial wicket of Paul Collingwood (Andrew Flintoff has not set a price on his wicket this entire tournament so, cannot be counted valuable) and making an easy meal of the tail was paramount to South Africas chances.
The blustery manner in which AB de Villiers and Graeme Smith thrashed England hopes, the temptation to pick a name for the man of the match award would have been pretty strong. However, it was the one performance that could not be neglected at any costs. Hall is one of those ultimate team players who uses every opportunity that comes his way, plays his role sublime, and leaves the match with the simple satisfaction of a job well done. Even after a performance such as this, Hall is sure to go down in history as one of those few men who continue to threaten the eleven on the field, and never be the selectors first choice. But his selfless deeds make up for his irregular presence. It is the unsung efforts of men such as this that impact the game in the most astounding ways. This is a chapter perhaps that has never existed in the Indian cricket set up where players are warped in mindset trying to save their individual backsides, the slant not misplaced.
There has been so much said about the bitter war of words between Graeme Smith and Kevin Pietersen that it had to end in a whimper. But there was nothing subdued about the South African skippers elation when Nels delivery offered him a catch and an opportunity to send back the loud mouthed but very successful modern day cricketer. But this was not about shutting up Pietersen. It was about keeping one of the worlds and Englands only other in-form batsman (besides Collingwood in recent months) under check, and if it was killing two birds with one stone, Smith would take that any day. But to top it off with the entry into the semi-finals, this was one brilliant catch Smith would gratefully help himself to!