South Africa had many heroes on Tuesday, in a win that saw them beat Sri Lanka by 78 runs, in a game that saw the Lankans virtually out of the event.
There was the duo of Jacques Kallis and AB de Villiers, who put on 80 runs in cautious fashion to rebuild the South African innings after they were 30-3. There was that feisty flourish for the eighth wicket by Shaun Pollock and Robin Peterson that yielded 42 valuable runs in quick time and injected fresh life into the South Africans.
There was that awesome display of disciplined bowling by a visibly hungry pace attack --Pollock, Makhaya Ntini and Andre Nel --- that tore the heart out of the Lankan top order.
And of course, some outstanding fielding, all around and especially, a delectable bit from Herschelle Gibbs and Pollock, the first, a man who came to India under a cloud because of his alleged role in the matchfixing scandal and the questions it has left unanswered and the other, a 33-year-old who would put people half his age to shame, the way he played on the day.
Pollock certainly didn't look like anywhere near the doddering wreck he should be in this day of very young superstars, as just after Gibbs dove, stopped and threw back a Tillekeratne Dilshan drive from point, he backed up behind the bowler (Kallis), dove forward absolutely flat at full length towards the stumps and got to them before Mahela Jayawardene could get back to the crease.
That superb run-out was definitely the turning point of the game. For the Lankan skipper, calm and collected, the very antithesis of Smith, his hyper opposite number, looked like he would create a mini-renaissance if he hung on. It was not to be and with Jayawardene's dismissal --- a run-out that must have done Jonty Rhodes, watching from the dressing room, very, very proud --- Lanka were almost certainly out of this game.
Sri Lanka will stay on, waiting for the result of the Pakistan game, but it might be a futile wait. Now, even if Pakistan win both their games against New Zealand and South Africa and three teams finish with a win apiece, Lanka's negative run rate means they need Pakistan to thrash both the others by massive margins to have a whiff of a semifinal berth.
As for South Africa, they fought back with unusual spirit after making just 219 and it wasn't just because they were desperately in search of their first points. Or the fact that a loss to Lanka soon after the defeat to New Zealand would have been unforgivable and seen them probably exit the event. Or the pride at stake with their being the world's second-ranked team.
It was all that and more. In the run-up to this game, an angry Mark Boucher, who had captained the South Africans to Sri Lanka for the tri-series in August, stated on Saturday that he and many teammates were viewing this as a grudge game --- not to get back at the Sri Lankan players but the circumstances that followed their premature abandonment of the tri-series and Sri Lanka following a bomb blast in Colombo.
The South Africans apparently were incensed at the way they had been treated by the Lankan media, who dubbed them "chicken" and more viciously, implied that there was a racial divide in the team --- with the black players wanting to stay and the whites wanting to go. That was not true, they emphasized and they wanted to get back And then, there was the fact that on their return to South Africa itself, they were castigated by the public (who thought that a people used to dealing with a violent society should not have fled) and viewed with disappointment and scepticism by their newspapers, many of who recalled how South Africa had made a historic point by playing their World Cup games in Sri Lanka when Australia and the West Indies refused to do so in 1996.
For South Africa, this win could probably signal extraordinary celebrations.