Saturday, April 14, 2007

New Zealand puts the skids on South Africa

Learning valuable lessons from their loss against Sri Lanka, New Zealand effectively choked South Africa out of their Super 8s game today in World Cup 2007 – becoming the second team to ensure a semifinal berth and in the process throwing the hitherto solid South African campaign into disarray.

Stephen Fleming won a toss today that made all the difference and I say this out of no disrespect to the New Zealand side that we have all come to admire. There was juice in the wicket and cloud cover in the skies. And that combination made the ball bounce and swing. Shane Bond started with a spell so sharp that even a shot off the middle of the bat could end up anywhere – as Graeme Smith found out. Franklin bowled a quick, cramping line and South Africa were on the run inside the first five overs.

Calculated risks
There was an interesting period of play when their two best batsmen were at the crease – Herschelle Gibbs and Jacques Kallis. Both decided that the bounce in the wicket would carry the ball over the stumps and took calculated risks based on that assumption. They shimmied down to thump the bowler through off and later when wicketkeeper McCullum moved up, Kallis would move outside the leg stump within his crease to make room.

Fleming makes his moves
This briefly paid dividends but Kallis played a poor shot and holed out to mid-off. At this point, Fleming effectively took a series of measures that ensured the game for New Zealand. Instead of sitting back, he made the most of the toss by pressing on the advantage. He correctly judged that the emerging sun would cut down the swing and dry up the wickets and he brought his slower bowlers into play. And he controlled the play by giving South Africa risky options to attack in terms of gaps in the field. The South African batsmen, seeing the wicket easing out as they played, had no choice but to take Fleming up on the challenges he threw their way.

It resulted in a disastrous South African batting performance. This is a side needs to fire early. When they don’t, they look sluggish – devoid of ideas and unable to dig themselves out of a hole. They ended up with 193 for 7, well short of a challenging target on a wicket slowing down by the hour.

A limp but successful run chase
If there is one potential weakness to be exploited in the New Zealand side it’s their batting against quality slower bowlers. But South Africa had only the rusty looking spinner Ron Peterson who seems to have such little cache with his captain that he didn’t come on to bowl until the 24th over with the target firmly within New Zealand’s reach.

But New Zealand’s run chase wasn’t comprehensive. Their top order batsmen struggled and it took Styris – easily New Zealand’s MVP in this tournament - to steady the innings. And yet later, it took Craig McMillan to inject some momentum in it.

Where does SA go from here?
With this defeat, their second in the Super 8s, the wheels are threatening to come off of South Africa’s bid for the cup. They have one more game against England – which will likely decide which will be the fourth team to join New Zealand, Australia and Sri Lanka in the semifinals. They have the talent, if not the cricketing diversity, to pull it off. The question now is: do they have the courage?


Kalyan said...

Quite a boring match, I felt RSA becoming a strong weaker team in WC2007.This particular match I wouldn't give total credit to NZ for winning, RSA just gave up the match without fighting.Once known for superb fielding side just dropped three simple catches of big NZ players.Good luck RSA..only adavantage is that at any given day RSA is in lot better form than English.

Unknown said...

You have to factor in that NZ won an excellent toss. And RSA simply did not have the bowlers to exploit a drying pitch later on in the day.