Will they choke again, is the most obvious (and most overplayed) one. Can they chase again, is the more pressing one, given how they didn’t against the Dutch or India, snuck over the line against Pakistan, and made hard work of it against Afghanistan. What effect will the Springbok victory at the Rugby World Cup two weeks ago have on their cricketing counterparts? How many times will Springboks be mentioned at a cricket competition? (Answer: as many times as it can be because come on, no other team has won the rugby world cup as many times as the Springboks). And are they starting to internalise the pressure that comes with push-to-shove situations?
Walter, who rarely talks in anything other than an even-tone, offered this up in response. “The semi-final becomes what you allow it to become. I don’t ever want the guys to downplay a semi-final, because they have played bloody good cricket to get there,” he said in Ahmedabad, where South Africa played their last league game. “I would much rather tell them to enjoy the fact that we are here, enjoy the fact that we have played good cricket to be here, and enjoy the experience of being in a semi-final, against a team that we know very well, are highly competitive and probably have just started playing their best cricket.”
He’s right and he’s not. The bilateral record, as impressive as it is, includes matches where both teams were resting first-choice players. So although it’s the same team, Australia are fundamentally the same in approach no matter who plays, it’s not the same people all the time. For example, in the most recent series which South Africa won 3-2, Pat Cummins was not involved. And then it’s also not the same team in the sense that the Australia that started this competition with successive losses is not the same Australia that have reeled off seven wins in a row. Walter recognises that.
“They are playing better than they were at the start of the campaign,” he said. “There was probably some fatigue that kicked in from the (English) summer but once you get momentum in a World Cup campaign, you start to think less about fatigue and you start trusting your cricket. I think that’s where they are.”
South Africa have not enjoyed the same unbeaten run, but also did not have fixtures in the same sequence. Unlike Australia, who had two of their toughest games first, followed by relatively easier fixtures later, South Africa’s challenges were dotted through the campaign. Though they lost two matches, they ended the league stage with an overall sense of satisfaction that they are ready for what really matters.
“The exciting part is the way we’ve played. In the general sense, we weren’t even thought of [as semi-finalists] but then we played really high quality cricket to get there and when that happens, expectation rises and people think, “Oooh, maybe they have actually got a chance,” Walter said.
Now it’s up to them to see what they can make of that chance.