For long enough it seemed that they might be clog-dancing in the streets of Amsterdam tonight, or whatever happens when the Dutch become cricket giant-killers. In the event, they were spared the worry of how to celebrate as the Netherlands fell an agonising six runs short of defeating South Africa.
Misguided tactics, presumably caused by nerves at the sight of the finishing line, prevented a pursuit of 146 to win and throw Group One of the World Twenty20 wide open. A whirlwind innings from the left-handed opener Stephan Myburgh seemed to ease the path to an unlikely win.
He scored 51 from 28 balls, following his 63 from 23 balls against Ireland last week, and although he departed in the eighth over, Netherlands were still well placed when they needed 32 runs from 48 balls with six wickets in hand.
It was a splendid response after their wretched match against Sri Lanka two days earlier when they were bowled out for 39, though that might have been small consolation as the wickets tumbled again towards the end.
South Africa were again indebted to their champion fast bowler, Dale Steyn, who twice entered the attack to take wickets when they were needed and was as usual a handful to deal with. But the leg spin of Imran Tahir also perplexed the Dutch, who played as if they had never seen its like.
Faf du Plessis, South Africa’s captain, acknowledged how fortunate his side had been, though he managed to put a gloss on it. “We are making it hard for ourselves,” he said. “It’s a great sign when your side isn’t playing at 100 per cent and you still manage to get across the line.
“We are playing at about 50 to 60 per cent... that was a great fightback. Netherlands played fantastically today. You have to give them credit. Obviously they didn’t pull through a game they should have won but they stepped up to the plate.”
South Africa batted with little assurance after being given a rapid start by Hashim Amla. It was as if they were taking the qualifiers for granted and a litany of batsmen holed out to daft big shots. The nifty seam of Ahsan Malik took 5 for 19, the best figures by an associate nation bowler against a Test-playing country.
After Amla went as early as the sixth over for 43, South Africa’s innings never looked like amounting to anything of note. Amla edged a booming drive behind, Du Plessis hit to mid-wicket, A B de Villiers to cover, and the rest froze.
Peter Borren, Netherlands’ captain, was left to lament one of the most gilt-edged of missed opportunities. “It’s a bit of a shame our batters couldn’t get the job done,” he said. “As miffed as I am with the fact that we didn’t get over the line I am also proud with the way we stepped up after our game the other night.”