For Australia it was sweet revenge as they now go into the Super 8s with two valuable points.
This was arguably the most anticipated match of the league stage of the World Cup 2007. Even as interest began to wane for some nations whose fate was pretty much decided by this stage, there was one head on clash that merited interest purely for the passion with which the rankings have been fought and swapped. This was yet another episode in the never ending saga that is the South Africa-Australia collision.
South Africa dethroned Australia from the number one pedestal in the ICC one day international rankings just ahead of the commencement of the World Cup. However, that was not the only thing swapped. It was now Australia's turn to be called the chokers. So, while cricket skeptics would describe this as a battle between chokers, this was a battle between two big and rather prominent names in the cricketing world.
It is not secret that there is little love lost when Australia came gate crashing on South Africas party on previous occasions. This time seemed no different as Australia took the hammering on a batsman friendly pitch, reducing even Shaun Pollock into a pedestrian part time bowler. Matthew Hayden roused from forced retirement, showed the Australian selectors that he was as good as ever as he smashed a sixty-six ball century, the fastest of the World Cup beating Canadas John Davison who took one more ball the last time round.
Bu thereafter Ricky Ponting followed up the pace battering with Michael Clarke and the duo ensured South Africa would not get even a foot in the door. Although the South Africans pegged back a bit in the middle ten overs, there was no doubt about what the demands would be on this pitch as Australia finished on 377.
Just when it seemed another chase like 434 was on the cards, South Africa also showed the team was up to it. Or was it? Where the last time it was Herschelle Gibbs and Graeme Smith who studded the scorecard and peppered the outfield with unending boundaries, it was AB de Villiers who generated the early momentum. The skipper quickly took on a fair share of the run generation and Australias weak link, their rather inexperienced bowling, yet again began to resurface as they struggled to rein in South Africa.
South Africa though was in no mood to relent and with each landmark, raised the bar and the game just that bit to make this one enthralling run chase. But just when South Africa looked good, tragedy struck. AB de Villiers was run out on a greedy second run for ninety-two. But it was Graeme Smiths cramping pains that truly brought the match to a standstill. Batting on seventy-two, Smith looked good to take South Africa into the Super 8s with a win against Australia. But even as he tried to keep the momentum with the aid of a runner, Smith found it impossible to carry and was forced to leave the field.
That proved the turning point of the match as thereafter, Jacques Kallis seemed to be doing a holding role. But the runs were being held up as well as none of the remaining batsmen got going and showed the patience to last the distance. While the run rate was still hovering between eight and ten an over, with batsmen in hand, this should have been still South Africas day given the wickets in hand. By the time Smith came back to the crease at the fall of Justin Kemps wicket, the match seemed well beyond his heroics as well.
Australian bowling only got better after the shift in momentum and the early loss of wickets for South Africa. There could only be two plausible reasons for South Africas loss and no, this had nothing to do with the run rate. It was either a case of too much dependency on the in-form batsman, in this case Graeme Smith, to the point that an unwarranted sense of complacency and easy going came into the mindset of the batsmen on the bench or else, it was the momentum alone that played a decisive role to change the tide at the half way mark of the match where there seemed one obvious winner!
This was an expected blockbuster with a slightly anti-climatic finish. For Australia it was sweet revenge as they now go into the Super 8s with two valuable points and a point run home, sort of, to the current number one. Given the heightened anticipation, it was easy to forget this was not a final but rather only the penultimate day of league matches in the World Cup!