At Edgbaston on Wednesday, South Africa fell back on an all too familiar trope. They imploded in a crucial World Cup game. They almost lost it, dragged it back and then truly lost it.
They dropped catches, failed to ask for DRS review when they should have and missed a simple run-out chance. They did everything they could to make it harder for themselves towards the end of the game and eventually paid for it.
New Zealand, on the other hand, walked through all that chaos, while keeping their heads cool and nerves calm, and got to the target, 242, in the last over. In a game that had a delayed start due to wet outfields and was consequently reduced to 49 overs, New Zealand won the toss and put South Africa to bat on a slow pitch.
A lackluster but combative batting effort from the Proteas took them to 241. In reply, New Zealand flirted with a collapse, losing four wickets for just 80 runs, three of them in comical fashion. But their captain Kane Williamson lifted them up and led them to an emphatic 4-wicket win in a final-over thriller.
Here are the talking points from the game:
South Africa's World Cup Theatre
South Africa at the World Cup have now passed into folklore territory. To call them unfortunate would be wrong because it suggests they had no control over their undoing. To say they choke is just unimaginative and boring. The phenomenon at work here is intrinsically linked to South Africa at World Cups. Only they can pull off the duplicity of trying really hard to win and yet looking like they are trying really hard to lose.
Twice New Zealand have knocked South Africa out of the World Cup, in 2011 and 2015. Both times South Africa did a South Africa. On Wednesday, they did it again. Dropped catches, missed run outs, not appealing for a clear caught behind; South Africa did it all. They refused to dismiss Kane Williamson. They gave themselves a fighting chance, set themselves up for win, dragged the game to the very end and went bust. They are virtually out of the World Cup, and for a third time running, it has happened at the hands of the Black Caps.
And while everything that could go wrong for South Africa did go wrong, everything that could go right for New Zealand went better than expected. Watching them navigate the game and win in the last over felt like watching a lucky simpleton walk through a den of hazards and emerge unscathed. It wasn't just luck though. Because so much of what happened is just inherently embedded in the DNA of these two teams.
New Zealand were and always will be cool. They will stay calm and play through the pressure because, really, they are never under any pressure anyway. South Africa, on the other hand, will implode.
Kane Williamson's World Cup Classic
Williamson's century that guided New Zealand through the chaos to a memorable win and a near-confirmed berth in the semi-finals will go down as a World Cup classic. It was far from the prettiest hundred. It was clumsy, rusty, often stupid, and really clever at other times. It was lucky but it was brave. It was funny but it was admirable. And most of all, it was ridiculously fun to watch.
On a slow, soft pitch, Williamson struggled. He mistimed his shots, he completely missed his shots and when he hit the shots he found the fielder. But he soldiered on. And he was cool throughout it. He was dropped, his inside edges missed the stumps on occasion, he nicked the ball to Quinton de Kock and the South Africans did not go for a review, he survived a run out scare.
With 242 needed, New Zealand were down four wickets at 80. Williamson was stubborn at one end. With the help of Colin de Grandhomme, he dragged the game to last over. Eight runs needed in the final over, Mitchell Santner took a single off the first ball from Andile Phehlukwayo and handed Williamson, then on 96, the strike.
Phehlukwayo went for a slower one, just outside off and full. The New Zealand captain was anticipating it, he fell down to a knee and picked it over mid-wicket for six, evoking the Grant Elliot six that ended South Africa's World Cup in 2015 semi-final. With scores level and a memorable century to his name, Williamson then dabbed the ball square for four, finishing what he started.
His reaction to the winning runs would tell you everything you need to know about him. No pumped fists and loud roar. Just a hint of a smile on the face, a fist bump with Santner and handshakes with the South Africans. Job done. No fuss.
New Zealand Keep Winning
The favourites talk has featured around India and England. Australia, despite a thin squad and wobbly performances, have remained the fringe of that talk because, well, they are Australia and this is the World Cup. But New Zealand just keep winning. They have consistently remained on top of the table, are the only team except India that are yet to be defeated and they have balanced squad that is up for a fight.
New Zealand have encountered all kinds of pitches, they have won easily and they have also fought hard and won. They did that against a resilient Bangladesh and they dug in and did it again against South Africa. The Black Caps also seem to handle pressure really well in that it seems to slide off them like water. And they have one of the finest ODI captains in Williamson. With semi-finals now a fait accompli, all that remains to be seen is if New Zealand can be clutch. Usually you bank teams like Australia and India with vast World Cup experience and a history of success in knockout games.
New Zealand lost in the semi-final in 2011 and in the final in 2015. They are here to not just go far, but go all the way. And if they go about their cricket like they have been doing, not caring about anything else, they might just reach there.
South Africa Need Introspection
This is admittedly the weakest side South Africa have sent to World Cup in years, but even then it has under-performed. The Proteas never really started off this World Cup. After the loss, Faf du Plessis admitted that individuals had failed to take up more responsibility. "The performances haven't been there. Individually we should have put on performances that could have driven the team home. But now we have to just try out best to compete again," he said.
They were yet again disappointing in all aspects. With the bat, they were mediocre at best. Yes, the pitch was a slow one where it was difficult for batters to pick up the pace. Hashim Amla and Aiden Markram offered resistance but failed to see it through. Rassie van der Dussen and David Miller dragged them to a competitive total.
With the ball, South Africa were fortunate to pick up three wickets on three non-wicket-taking deliveries. They had New Zealand down at 80/4. But then they became South Africa of the yore and suddenly forgot how to take catches and effect run outs and eventually paid for their callousness.