“Quite hard to put into words,” Bavuma said on the official broadcast after the game. “They were outstanding for a large part of the game and thoroughly deserved victory. Looking at the result, I think the way we started with the bat and the ball was probably the turning point. We lost it quite badly there and we always had to play catch-up to get ourselves back into the game.”
Was it the conditions? Nerves? The quality of Australia’s attack? Bavuma said, “The conditions, combined with the quality of the attack. I thought [Josh] Hazlewood as well as [Mitchell] Starc upfront were ruthless. They exploited every bit of advantage that was presented to them with the conditions and they really put us under pressure. When you’re 4 for 24, you’re always going to struggle to get a competitive total.”
“To be honest, even the commentators that I’ve spoken to, no one could predict the pitch would play like that for the first 12 overs,” Walter said at the post-match press conference. “And had it played as we expected it to, then we would have backed ourselves to get 270. And once we got 270, because it was turning – you saw how much it spun in the evening – we knew that that was going to be our in into the game. And ultimately it was really, so we just didn’t have enough runs to work with so… Had those first ten overs looked a little bit different – it’s easy to say at the back end of losing – but I think the contest would have been a touch closer than it already was.”
Even though South Africa were defending a modest total, they ran Australia close when their frontline spinners Tabraiz Shamsi and Keshav Maharaj dismissed Travis Head, Marnus Labuschagne and Glenn Maxwell in a spell of high-class bowling that featured considerable turn. In that phase, Bavuma himself moved in as a close-in fielder under the helmet, and the ball flew off the edges at times.
But before that, substitute fielder Reeza Hendricks had dropped Head on 40 in the 12th over and Quinton de Kock had nearly held on to a very tough chance off Steven Smith’s bat off Shamsi in the 18th over. There were two half-chances in the dying moments of the chase, too, off Aiden Markram’s bowling, when Australia were seven down. The first was when a push from Mitchell Starc landed short of Markram and the second was when Pat Cummins chipped the ball to midwicket and it landed just short of a diving David Miller.
“Definitely, we had chances, tough chances that we put down,” Bavuma said. “There were half-chances as well, but [they] bounced in front of us, maybe we could have been more proactive, getting guys in a bit closer, but I guess when the margins are like that, you need things to go your way. But it doesn’t take away from the fact that Australia put a good display of cricket out there.”
While batting, South Africa were lifted by Miller after a wobbly start, as he carried them from 24 for 4 to 203 for 9 with a fighting 101 off 116 balls in which he sent Adam Zampa for four sixes. While lauding Miller’s effort, Bavuma also said he would have liked Heinrich Klaasen to get a bigger score than his 47 – Klaasen had a fifth-wicket stand of 95 with Miller and gave South Africa hopes of a more competitive total.
“We were gaining some momentum with that partnership between David Miller and Klaasy,” Bavuma said. “We would have liked Klaasen to go on longer and we’ve seen how destructive he can be when he gets to the latter part of the innings. David Miller’s innings was superb, really captures the character of our team and for him to go and play like that in that pressure situation in a World Cup speaks about the player, not just his talent but his mental capacity.”
“As a young guy, he really was the warrior for us,” Bavuma said of Coetzee. “I think at that time for the seamers there wasn’t much happening for him to be able to come around the wicket and bowl with the intensity and pressure that he did, and obviously get the big wicket of Steve Smith, get us back into the game, and him not wanting to let go off the ball. He kept on going, he was cramping but he kept going. He’ll be a big asset for South African cricket going forward.”
There have been question marks around Bavuma – the batter, mainly, and the captain too – and they may not stop after he averaged just 18.12 in this World Cup while scoring 145 runs, that too with a strike rate of just 73.60. His top score was just 35 in eight innings and his four-ball duck in the semi-final won’t work in his favour. But he has the backing of Walter for the way he led South Africa.
“I just told him how proud I am of him. You know, he marshalled the troops this evening unbelievably well. To get the game close, I thought strategically the way he operated along with obviously the sort of the senior heads around him on the field, the different pressures created through the field positions, I thought it was an excellent effort to defend that score,” Walter said. “But, beyond that, you know, sometimes [it’s] not easy to walk through a tournament when you aren’t delivering yourself but the batters around you are, but the important thing is that we operate as a unit. He was the lead man that got us into this tournament in the first place, I think people forget that, so I just wanted to make sure that he was aware of how important he is in this team and how proud I am of his efforts and the way he led throughout the tournament.
South Africa still haven’t reached an ODI World Cup final despite reaching the semi-finals in 1992, 1999, 2007, 2015 and now, in 2023.
Vishal Dikshit is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo