September 25, 2009

South Africa get a much needed lifeline


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

Much to the relief of the organizers and the thousands of their die-hard supporters, the South African team has got a lifeline in the ongoing ICC Champions Trophy 2009 by overpowering New Zealand by five wickets in their clash at the Super Sport Park in Centurion on September 24.

There were moments during the game when one felt that South Africa would be falling apart once more as they had done in the previous ICC tournaments at home. One was getting reminded of the match between the same two opponents in the 2003 World Cup when a combination of factors had helped New Zealand stun the hosts.

New Zealand once more needed to bring about an upset to prevail over South Africa because there was hardly any comparison between the two teams. The South Africans stood head and shoulders above the Black Caps in every department of the game but they had to prove it in the park to stay in the reckoning after the humiliating loss at the hands of Sri Lanka the other night.

As somebody quite rightly pointed out, both South Africa as well as New Zealand have had the tendency of being engaged in shocking results. South Africa have usually been at the receiving end while New Zealand have generally been the beneficiaries in the tales of unexpected.

No matter how superior the South Africans were on paper, they must have been under immense pressure when they took the field in Centurion. They had to prevent the New Zealanders from posting a kind of total that would have kept the contest open.

The brilliant bowling by Wayne Parnell and Roelof van der Merwe allowed the hosts in accomplishing their task of limiting the Black Caps who were threatening to put runs on the board. Dale Steyn also chipped in with useful wickets much to the delight of skipper Graeme Smith who was obviously not in a mood to give anything away in a do-or-die game for his team.

New Zealand lacked quality batsmen who could go the distance in a 50-over game. Their inexperienced batters may be getting away with it in the Twenty20 games but it was a different ball game lasting full 50 overs, an area where they were found wanting once more.

There were times when New Zealand looked in a position to amass a total in the region of 250 after Ross Taylor had done the hard work. But not unexpectedly their last seven wickets tumbled for 51 runs and they were bowled out for 214. Parnell was their wrecker-in-chief with a five-wicket haul.

The target of 215 was unlikely to test the South Africans even though New Zealand had some quality as well as variety in their bowling. It could have been an interesting battle, had the target been over 250.

Daniel Vettori, as he always does, refused to give up and the fall of wickets at regular intervals allowed him to keep his boys motivated. Jacques Kallis batted imperiously before edging Shane Bond while Hashim Amla played the anchor role admirably.

The innings of the day, however, was played by AB de Villiers whose glorious unbeaten half century helped the hosts in reaching the target quite comfortably in the end.

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