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Proteas give themselves a chance at glory

The Proteas so nearly choked. Ultimately they proved that this team has something different. Something worth believing in, writes Ryan Vrede.

In a year where bloated scores dominated T20 cricket, the world cup has been of the finest margins. This is certainly true for the Proteas, who’ve ground out results throughout.

In Antigua, the playbook reminded the same, but the heroes were different.

Sometimes a dogged half-century wins you these chases. Sometimes the margin is as fine as an elegant cover drive for four off the last ball of the penultimate over. Kagiso Rabada has betrayed his batting talent throughout his career. But in that moment it soared beautifully and decisively.

It left Marco Jansen on strike with five needed to win. He finished it with a six that cleared the South African airway and breathed life into their world cup campaign.

REPORT: Proteas hold nerve to reach semi-finals

Much has been made of the Proteas’ pathway to this point. They said their group-phase run came against some of the weakest nations in T20 cricket. Then they beat England, the defending champions and second-ranked T20 team. With that, the criticism dulled but scaled again when this fixture became a quarter-final.

Now they’ve beaten the hosts, who just two months ago swept them 3-0 in a series. The nature of performance is not immune to criticism. Indeed, skipper Aiden Markram lamented it. “We would have wanted to be more clinical,” he said.

But they’re still alive when it is conceivable that their predecessors would have been crushed by the pressure exerted by a gifted Windies team in front of their people. They have a chance their predecessors never did – to correct the course, rather than lament the result from their lounges back home.

Whether they find it in them to put two big performances together and break the curse, remains to be seen. What matters is at this moment, they – we – can dream.

And while it was the batting moments that will dominate the headlines, it would be remiss not to credit this win to the superb bowling effort. They squeezed early, diminishing Shai Hope and Nicholas Pooran before the Windies got into double figures.

Kyle Mayers and Roston Chase, both dropped early in their digs, stabilised things but, critically, never got away.

A word of appreciation for Tabraiz Shamsi, who has had an indifferent tournament. He is wonderfully talented. But talent is nothing without temperament.

Yesterday, he exhibited both these qualities in exceeding measure. He got rid of Mayers and Powell, as well as the dangerous Sherfane Rutherford.

There were no phone-home celebrations. But if he continues to operate at this level of potency, he and his teammates may well be making some happy calls home on Saturday.

Shamsi operated in partnership with the irrepressible Keshav Maharaj and the ever-improving Nortje. Markram, who led with calmness, clarity and an innovative spirit, went for just 28 in his four overs, taking Pooran, one of the format’s most destructive batters, with him.

Rabada’s involvement was limited to just two overs, which baffled the commentators. A sober analysis of the decision will reveal it as the correct one. It spun and bounced wickedly for the Proteas’ tweakers.

In any case, Rabada’s moment would come with the cane, not the Kookaburra.

The 29-year-old may yet make decisive contributions with the ball. But it spoke to the desire and granite spirit that pervades this Proteas team that two bowlers got them home.

This team is different. That doesn’t mean they’ll be world champions. They may, but that isn’t the point.

Previous Proteas teams would have lost on New York pitches that weren’t fit for purpose. They would have succumbed to Nepal, been overwhelmed by the plucky Americans, or gifted Englishmen. And they would have certainly bottled it against the hosts in Antigua.

This team has conquered all those challenges.

They are different. They are special.

HIGHLIGHTS: West Indies vs Proteas (T20 World Cup)

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