With their next game only on Saturday, the Proteas are in Manchester already, having a couple of days of resting up that will feel like forever given their meeting with Australia is their last game and then they go home. That means that since they were knocked out of contention by Pakistan at Lord’s, South Africa will only play two games in 13 days, and that is a far cry from how they started the World Cup with three matches in the first week.
Captain Faf du Plessis has acknowledged that their poor start was fatal in terms of their chances, but they are eager to ensure that they finish the tournament on a high with back-to-back wins by upsetting the high-flying Australians.
“We want to make sure that we enjoy the time we have left and it will be the last game this group plays together, so we want to make sure that we put in our best performance for guys that have served the Proteas so well. The spirit has been really good the whole tournament, as tough as it’s been. The team has never had any issues behind the scenes. We’ve tried to enjoy ourselves, make sure we have a bit of fun away from the game.
“But it’s difficult when you’re not getting the performances and we have just not been good enough to beat teams. It’s been a crazy World Cup though and the margins have been so small – think back to the matches against New Zealand and India when Rabada bowled so well but it looks like we were completely outplayed. Our batting has not been great, but we haven’t been so far off with the ball.
“It was crucial that we started well because then your confidence grows and anything is possible. But when you start the way we did – zero-from-three – then the expectation becomes a weight on your shoulders; it becomes a heavy burden. This is the first World Cup that has been really tough for us right the way through and it’s been a much tougher tournament than before, where you could afford a slip-up,” Du Plessis said.
The Proteas have travelled 217km south-west of Chester-le-Street, to finish their tournament at Old Trafford, where South Africa have won their last two games, beating England by 32 runs in 1998 and seven wickets in 2003. They lost to the home team by four wickets there in 1994.
All three matches have seen batsmen struggle for runs and partnerships – something the Proteas have not been good with recently – are crucial. Australia could be playing for first place on the final log – which will probably mean avoiding a semi-final against India – and with relations between the teams frosty, it could well be a thrilling encounter.
Providing the Proteas bring their best game of course.