While now fifth ranked South Africa beating ninth ranked Sri Lanka is a long way from being an upset, based on form and their situation in the tournament most people thought that Sri Lanka would win, yet they were a very long way from winning as South Africa really turned it around and for perhaps the first time in the tournament actually played to their potential. Perhaps it was JP Duminy and Imran Tahir announcing their retirement at tournament’s end that did it. Perhaps it was the inclusion of Dwaine Pretorius again. Maybe it was just a momentum thing, as they got ahead and just stayed ahead. Who knows. Any way you look at it this 9 wicket win with 76 balls remaining was a one-sided affair, and the first game that could be considered to be an upset to be this one-sided. As many South African fans said mid-match: why didn’t they do this earlier in the tournament when it mattered?
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Five Things We Learned:
(1) And then there were three
Sri Lanka’s loss has all but eliminated themselves from semi-final contention, and simultaneously has all but qualified both India and New Zealand. While Sri Lanka can yet make it, it’s so improbable that even the overly optimistic Bangladesh fans wouldn’t imagine it. Similarly, India and New Zealand can yet be eliminated but it’s so unlikely as to be absurd. We’ve basically now got a situation where the winner of Pakistan vs Bangladesh will make it, so long as England lose to both India and New Zealand. If England win either match, then they are through, unless the winner of Pakistan vs Bangladesh had also won their other game (Pakistan against Afghanistan and Bangladesh against India). If England win both matches, then Pakistan and Bangladesh are out. Such a big game with so many major ramifications for everyone else.
(2) Six teams benefited from South Africa’s win
At least South Africa will be popular for doing the right thing by six teams in the tournament. (1) India are now 99% qualified, (2) New Zealand are now 99% qualified, (3) England are now much more likely to qualify, (4) Bangladesh are now more likely to qualify, (5) Pakistan are now more likely to qualify, (6) South Africa get a win. No wonder Sri Lanka lost. It was six against one!
(3) Better teams can win even if out of form
This has ramifications for England as well, as they are a better team than either India and especially New Zealand, and South Africa set the blueprint here for how to show how they can win, in spite of a poor tournament position, against a weaker team. The question is whether England can follow that blueprint. England aren’t much better than India, and even the gap between England and New Zealand isn’t particularly large, but it gives them more hope for a way out of their depression. If South Africa can do it then England can too.
(4) Sri Lanka really are pretty awful
For one fleeting moment, as Mark Wood edged the ball behind to gift Sri Lanka the shock win over England, we thought that Sri Lanka might actually qualify for the semi-finals, but, before and after it, even for 99% of the match against England, we knew that they weren’t, and in this match, as Sri Lanka were slaughtered, we saw what their team is really like. They might one day get back to their best, but it is a very long way from there, and, while their getting 6 points in the World Cup is probably 6 points more than most people thought they’d get, it doesn’t hide the fact that they are in a pretty bad place as a team, not just with the World Cup but generally.
(5) South Africa aren’t the worst team after all
While they won’t make the semi-finals, and the highest they can finish is 6th, they showed here that they really aren’t completely awful as they beat a team with a genuine chance of a semi-final berth by a very big margin. We mustn’t forget that they had to play the extra game early to accommodate India’s late start, and they had to play against 3 of the best teams in their first 4 matches, and they had more narrow losses than any other team, and they had injuries to Dale Steyn, Lungi Ngidi and Hashim Amla, and they had A B de Villiers who was available but management wouldn’t play him. They had everything go wrong for them but at the end of the day they are a pretty good side, and, with a bit of luck, could have easily made the semi-finals. Had A B de Villiers been in the side, they probably would have been unbeaten. At least they showed some spirit here.