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Sunday, March 25, 2007

Australia seize opportunity tossed away by South Africa: World Cup day 12

In the final Group A match in St Kitts South Africa, like so many other teams in this World Cup (though on this occasion no rain was expected), opted to field first after winning the toss.

Australia took immediate advantage of the excellent batting wicket and small ground: Matthew Hayden and Adam Gilchrist accelerated out of the blocks, reaching 50 in the twinkling of an eye (29 balls for the statistical purists) and putting on 106 in 89b for the first wicket. There was no subsequent collapse. Hayden reached the fastest ever - 66 b - World Cup century before he was second out at 167 (23.3 overs) for101/68b; the third wicket, Ricky Ponting 91/91b, fell at 328 to the first ball of the 46th over, followed by Michael Clarke 92/75b in the 47th . 6/377 from 50 overs looked a good, though not an insurmountable, score bearing in mind Australia's experiences over the last year, especially this.

And for a time it looked a strong possibility. A B de Villiers and Graham Smith matched, then surpassed, Australia's effort as they made the bowling look less than ordinary and raced to 160. Then, from the last ball of the 21st over, a magnificent throw ( shown several times on TV here) from the boundary by Shane Watson hit the stumps running out de Villiers for 92/70b. Shortly thereafter Smith was forced by cramp to retire hurt, which naturally disturbed the momentum of the innings. Even so the Proteas had wickets and overs in hand, yet neither Herschelle Gibbs nor, especially, Jacques Kallis looked sufficiently on top to be able to steer their team home against the expensive yet varied Australian attack. Brad Hogg underlined South Africa's lack of quality slow bowling by getting considerable spin: he had Gibbs stumped with a beautiful left arm wrong 'un (also shown several times on TV). From 2/220 the pressure of the situation got to the South Africans. Neither Kallis, with what was in the situation a leisurely 48/63b, nor Smith, returning to the crease with a runner only to be bamboozled by Hogg without addition to his 74 (69b) , nor any of the other members of the supposedly deep batting lineup, were able to stop the wheels falling off. All out 294 in 48 overs gave Australia victory by 83 runs, a confidence boost for the coming Super Eight series and psychological ascendancy over South Africa.

That said, I don't think that South Africa should be written off just yet. Their batting can, and probably will, do better (not just against weaker teams). On the other hand their bowling must be a concern. Shaun Pollock appears to have slipped from penetrative quick to innocuous trundler, and he's not the only one in this category. Surely the attack they fielded against Australia isn't the best they can muster? Since there seems to be no spinner of quality in the squad, perhaps it is.

Scorecard.

In the Group C match in St Lucia, which was reduced to 43 overs apiece because of rain, Kenya won the toss and (surprise) batted. Captain Steve Tikolo made 76/97b but nobody stayed with him for long against keen, persistent and (since Andrew Flintoff was restored to the team) I presume sober England bowling. Kenya hung on for their 43 overs but struggled to 177 all out.

Michael Vaughan was out early in the England innings but Ed Joyce 75/90b and Kevin Pietersen 56 no /72b saw the team home comfortably by 7 wickets with 10 overs in hand.

Scorecard.
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