Seldom in SA’s bitter and twisted relationship with Australia has a match meant so little as the game they will play at Old Trafford on Saturday.
Let no-one fool anyone: this rubber is as dead as Monty Python’s parrot.
Nevertheless, the first team to qualify for the World Cup semifinals and the first side to crash out of the running will have to go through the motions.
There is little for SA to achieve beyond bidding farewell to JP Duminy and Imran Tahir, who have confirmed they will retire after the tournament.
And who knows who else. It has been a shocking few weeks for Faf du Plessis’ team, who won’t be human if they are not wondering whether there isn’t a better way to earn a living.
Played eight, won two would be a bearable scoreline if SA had fulfilled their potential. Instead they have done just the opposite, and in all departments.
In that sense they are the opposite of Bangladesh, who also arrived at the tournament as middleweight contenders and are also going home after the first round with only two wins.
But they will return to the appreciation of fans who have cheered them to victory over SA and West Indies, and who may well be able to do so in the match against Pakistan at Lord’s on Friday.
The Proteas will go back to, at best, silence. More likely they will be met by a tsunami of anger that has been building for more than a month, by questions of how things could have gone quite as badly as they have, and for calls for sweeping change.
We have raked the muck to mush by now, but the broad strokes are that the batting had no backbone, the pace bowling was shattered by injury, and the fielding fell apart at key stages.
The senior players were conspicuous by the absence of the example they should have set, and not enough of the youngsters stepped up well enough to fill the void. Other than all that, SA were pretty much perfect.
It does not help that England is not a good place to be when England are doing well, and even less so when they have resurrected their campaign — as they did by beating India at Edgbaston on Sunday and New Zealand at the Riverside on Wednesday to seal a spot in the semis.
Suddenly all the theories about what their losses to Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Australia meant for the bigger picture have been replaced by reasons proffered why they are going to go all the way.
“We must stick to our mantra the whole time and not actually be cagey, or desperate,” Eoin Morgan said in the afterglow of Wednesday’s win.
The last time the England captain spoke about mantras, after the defeat by Australia at Lord’s last Tuesday, he was derided. Now he is a guru.
So obsessed are the English with the fact that England have reached the final four for the first time since 1992 that the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) have sent out an SOS to members, imploring them to buy tickets for the Bangladesh-Pakistan game.
As things stood on Wednesday evening the pavilion would be only half-full for Friday’s match, which prompted MCC CEO Guy Lavender to fire off a strongly worded letter.
“Members may recall the ICC [International Cricket Council] women’s World Cup final in 2017, when unfavourable comparisons were made between the number of members in the Pavilion and full stands in the rest of the ground,” Lavender wrote, according the Guardian.
“This is damaging to the MCC’s global reputation and the committee is determined to avoid a repetition of these images on Friday.”
It is almost a pleasant distraction to marvel at the Australians, and how well they have recovered from the balltampering scandal.
India are the only team who have beaten them, and victory No 8 seems set to follow on Saturday.
Mitchell Starc is the tourname nt ’s leading bowler with 24 wickets — twice as many as those of Chris Morris, SA’s most successful bowler — at an average of 15.54 and an economy rate of 5.01.
David Warner has found the time to score two centuries and three half-centuries, as well as to be with his wife, Candice Warner, for the birth of their third daughter.
“We’ve always spoken about peaking towards the back end of the tournament, and we’re still searching for that perfect performance,” Starc told reporters after Australia’s last triumph, against New Zealand at Lord’s on Saturday, when he took 5/26 in a total of 157.
“We ’re not quite there yet.
We’re showing glimpses of what we are capable of with the ball and with the bat and in the field, but we have still got room to improve.
“And if we can do that … Obviously we have to make the final first, but if we can play our best game … well, we’ve got to play our best game in the semi now and hopefully better that in the final, and that’s what tournament play is all about.”
SA? They are not part of this conversation.