‘Absolutely gutting,’ says Walter, and no-one can say Proteas didn’t want it

The Proteas' Gerald Coetzee looks dejected after the 2023 ICC Cricket World Cup semifinal against Australia at Eden Gardens in Kolkata, India on Thursday.
The Proteas' Gerald Coetzee looks dejected after the 2023 ICC Cricket World Cup semifinal against Australia at Eden Gardens in Kolkata, India on Thursday.
Image: Reuters/Andrew Boyers

“Absolutely gutting,” was how Rob Walter described Thursday night’s three-wicket semifinal defeat to Australia. 

That the match got as close as it did — that Marnus Labuschagne was biting his bottom lip, David Warner was nervously walking around in front of the dressing room, that Steve Smith let out yelp of despair when dismissed and that the majority of this crowd threw their support behind South Africa — was down to the fight they showed.

No-one can say Temba Bavuma’s team didn’t want it. They scrapped and clawed throughout a gripping contest. Ultimately, they didn’t have enough runs. 

“Probably the first 10 overs on either side separated the game,” Walter said. South Africa registered its worst score — 18/2 — in the opening 10 overs of an innings in 15 years. Australia, meanwhile, sprinted away, putting up 74/2 at the end of their opening power play. 

The conditions were very different; under a leaden sky, Josh Hazlewood got the ball talking, Mitchell Starc was an excellent assistant and the fielding was mesmeric — particularly Marnus Labuschagne and David Warner. 

Bavuma’s decision at the toss will naturally be scrutinised, but even Pat Cummins admitted he would have batted because as it transpired the pitch aided spin.

“Look, we did speak about [fielding first],” Walter said. We realised there was obviously a little bit of moisture in the pitch, given that it had been under covers.

“I think the groundsman would have given it a sprinkling yesterday but because the sun wasn’t shining it didn't dry to the degree that it would have normally done.

With that said it's a semifinal, [batting first] is our strong suit, runs on the board, being able to create pressure that way, knowing that it was going to turn and knowing that if there is a weakness in the Australian side, it is against spin.”

The problem of course was the runs on the board — or in South Africa’s case the lack thereof. Walter said the Proteas fancied a total of 270, even 250, but from 24/4 that was always going to be difficult to achieve.

The South African batters couldn’t assert themselves, said Walter, because of Hazlewood and Starc’s masterful control.

“I don't think we were tentative at all. Rassie van der Dussen was across the crease and he was down the wicket. Quinton was trying to manage his way through the power play and then try to take something on aerially and got out,” Walter explained.

“So it's easy to say you must go out and play aggressively, but when the ball's bouncing so steeply and is moving laterally, your options are fairly limited.”

David Miller’s superb 101 dragged the Proteas to a competitive total, but Warner and Head’s opening assault gave the Australians enough leeway for when things got tricky against the spinners. “The two of them bring a very different mode of attack, and we’ve seen that time and time again in the competition.” 

Aiden Markram’s dismissal of Warner opened the door and for a long while after that, Keshav Maharaj and Tabraiz Shamsi maintained a tight grip on proceedings, forcing errors out of Labuschagne and the much-heralded Glenn Maxwell. Their combined figures of 3/66 from 20 overs illustrates their dominance.

Then there was Gerald Coetzee, who, after getting blasted by Head in his first over, returned to pick up two late wickets and keep South Africa’s hopes alive.

“Just to see the way that a guy like Gerald performed, running in from the bottom end there, cramping and just putting everything on the line just to try to get the team into the game; I mean, the guy’s played less than 15 games to play like that.

“There were tons of positives today, but obviously pretty bummed to not get over the line.”