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Sunday, April 15, 2007

New Zealand lift game to defeat butterfingered South Africa in low scoring contest

New Zealand defeated South Africa in their low and slow-scoring Super Eights match at Grenada. They are now assured of a place in the semi-finals, whereas South Africa will play England on Tuesday for (probably - see Postcript) the fourth place.

After the Black Caps' form reversal I may have to eat my words about the wisdom of batting first. The toss was crucial, but it's nonsense, as I've heard some commentators suggest, to claim that this, coupled with Stephen Fleming's decision to field first was the principal cause of the result. It subsequently emerged that Graham Smith was contemplating batting had he won the toss: the team selection, with swing specialist Charl Langeveldt omitted in preference to left arm spinner Robin Peterson, supported this opinion.

The plain fact is that New Zealand were the better side, especially in bowling and fielding. There was rain about and the pitch was slow, which meant that NZ, with a more varied bowling attack, was able to keep the pressure on the Protea batters. Two early wickets, one to the quick Shane Bond, the other to the contrasting left-armer James Franklin, left South Africa 2/3, the first time as S Rajesh and H R Gopalkrishna's admirable Cricinfo Stats report states, in the team's 38 World Cup appearances that they'd lost two wickets before reaching double figures. Raj & Gop (if I may call them this) argue that the first 20 overs, in which the Proteas reached 3/52, were crucial:

Just how difficult the conditions were for batting can be gauged from the fact that the not-in-control factor - the number of times the batsmen were beaten, rapped on the pads, or edged it - was 23% during those opening 20 overs. Even Kallis struggled, despite his watertight technique - his not-in-control factor was 24%, and he played-and-missed, or edged the ball 13 times out of the 41 deliveries he faced during this period. Among the New Zealand bowlers, Bond was again the most threatening - the in-control factor against him was only 68%. With survival itself being such a difficult proposition, it's hardly surprising that South Africa played out 92 dot balls out of 121 - effectively more than 15 maiden overs out of the first 20. South Africa's strongest statements of intent were the two sixes that Kallis and Gibbs struck off Jacob Oram - apart from that they managed only two fours in the entire Powerplay period.

This wasn't obvious to me, watching the game on TV, as I was expecting a revival of some sorts from the notionally strong South African batting, but it never came. Jacques Kallis was out from the penultimate ball of the 20th over, well caught by Bond in the deep off Daniel Vettori for 22/54b. A standoff ensued in which Herschelle Gibbs (60/100b) and Ashwell Prince (37/57b) added 76 in 95b against steady but nonthreatening bowling. Then, seemingly as an afterthought as the number 7 bowler, came Craig McMillan who, in Gavin Larsen/ Chris Harris / dibbly-dobbler vein, took 3/23 (and three good ones - Gibbs, Prince and Boucher) to leave South Africa 6/149 in the 43rd over. Bond had several overs left, and kept the lower order in check as well as taking another wicket: he finished with 10-1-26-2 and South Africa a below par (whatever people say about the wicket) 7/193.

The Black Caps' reply, despite the modest target, was very cautious. Once again the lack of variety in the attack (accentuated by keeping Peterson away from the crease until the game was all but decided) told against the Proteas, but it was their fielding which, as Andrew Miller's Cricinfo "Plays of the Day" describes, fell apart:

Drop of the Day Mk 1

Ashwell Prince's parry at square-leg had all the makings of a match-sealing moment. When you're defending 193 and the batsman of the tournament, Scott Styris, gives a chance while still in single figures, there's really no forgiving the culpable fielder. In mitigation, the ball was whipped through square leg with such power that it pulled up just yards inside the rope, but on the other hand, South Africa's reputation in one-day cricket has long been based upon their superlative fielding. At 54 for 2 it was a vital opportunity squandered.

Drop of the Day Mk 2

Ditto, with knobs on. Mark Boucher will need little reminding of the last time New Zealand and South Africa met in the World Cup. At Centurion in 2002-03, he dropped Stephen Fleming on 52 - a sitter of a chance off Jacques Kallis - and Fleming went on to make a fantastic match-winning 134 not out. Two weeks later, the hosts had been ejected from their own party. Today's chance was tougher - a thin top-edge that a leaping Boucher could only parry onto his nose - but the impact on his team-mates was very much the same.

Drop of the Day Mk 3

Ok, so it's cruel to labour the point, but déjà vu is a powerful thing, especially when poor old Herschelle is involved. For eight painful years, he's had to live with the memory of thataberration at Headingley in the 1999 World Cup, and like a particularly rubbish punchline, the joke gets wearier every time it is repeated. So, all together now, for (surely?) one last time: "You just dropped the World Cup, Hersch!" Of course, he could well cling onto a blinder to seal victory over England next week, and all will be forgiven. (At least, until the fourth-placed South Africans take on Australia in the St Lucia semi-final...)

I struggled to stay awake as the Black Caps plodded towards victory. Fleming 50/84b, Scott Styris 56/84b and Craig McMillan, adding 38 no/ 55b to his bowling, took their side across the winning line with 5 wickets and 10 balls to spare as the sun sank in Grenada and rose here.


Postcript: Where to from here?

Much depends on the England - South Africa game on Tuesday. "Expect a cracker" writes the prolific S Rajesh on Cricinfo, who explores the consequences of a win to each side. In short, England must win, but all is not necessarily over for South Africa if they lose, and, according to Rajesh, there even be a scintilla of hope for Bangladesh and West Indies.

All will be clearer by Wednesday.
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