Johannesburg: A week after going into the World Cup with high hopes of knocking mighty Australia off its champions perch, South Africa was under fire on Monday following its shattering defeat at the hands of New Zealand. The trouncing has cast doubts over its future in the event. "Gloomy forecast" moped the front page of the 'Johannesburg Star'. 'Business Day' asked "Have SA kissed World Cup goodbye?", while 'The Citizen' told its readers "SA's cup hopes dealt huge blow".
The air of despondency was caused by New Zealand's breathtaking nine-wicket win over the host in Sunday's rain-affected game, South Africa's second defeat in three games. The drama at the Wanderers, which saw home batsman Herschelle Gibbs smash 143 before Kiwi skipper Stephen Fleming responded with an unbeaten 134 to give his team victory, meant that South Africa has to win its remaining three matches if it is to stay in contention.
Questions are being asked if the South African players are in the right frame of mind to make their mark in the tournament. They have lost twice in the semi-finals and once in the quarter-finals in three World Cup appearances since they came back into the sporting fold after the apartheid years. There are likely to be mental scars from Sunday's defeat, which was played out in front of 30,000 shocked spectators at the Wanderers, the spiritual home of South African cricket. Having posted a formidable 306 for 6, most people in the stadium would have been contemplating a South African victory.
But that was before some inspired batting by Fleming and Nathan Astle, who made 54 not out, and some woeful work on the field conspired against the host. It was a vital win as the Kiwis had already lost to Sri Lanka and forfeited their game in Kenya. Matters have not been helped by the loss through injury of the world's top fielder Jonty Rhodes as well as the indifferent form of 36-year-old paceman Allan Donald.
Donald had figures of 0-54 in nine overs during the three-run defeat against the West Indies and was dropped for the win over Kenya before coming back to face New Zealand, where he had one for 52 off 5.5 overs. Coach Eric Simons leapt to Donald's defence. "A chap with Allan's experience can always come back. It depends on how badly he wants it," Simons said. "The frustrating thing for myself as coach is technically he has been brilliant. Even in the week leading up to the West Indies game, in the nets was probably the best I have seen him ever bowl."