Tuesday, April 17, 2007

South Africa exploits a pitch made for them

What kind of a wicket does the South African team like? Much like the one they got today in the needlepoint game against England in the World Cup. Both teams desperately needed a win to get to the semis. And England who have looked rather lost throughout this tournament, ran into a side who got in bed with the pitch and raised their game.

A wicket made in SA
Michael Vaughn won the toss and chose to bat first. He might have done it differently in hindsight, but he would have a difficult time convincing anyone that the result would have been different. The wicket was hard and good. There was no lateral movement either in the air or off the strip. The ball bounced high and lent itself to the cut and pull. And if you thought the deck was stacked against the bowlers – there was some minor variation in bounce, just enough to give them some hope.

The only English batsman who prospered, albeit briefly, was Andrew Strauss and it’s no coincidence that the pull and cut are his bread and butter shots. Yet for a while England were in the game. After Pietersen left in the 17th over – Strauss and Collingwood batted sensibly to raise 58 runs for the 4th wicket. It was only when Strauss fell fishing to drive off Kallis, that the crisis was precipitated.

England comes undone
Graeme Smith then brought in Andrew Hall who bowled a terrific line, found some reverse swing and instantly started sending English batsmen back. Collingwood went first, trapped in front. Andrew Flintoff – suffering through a miserable tournament with the bat - went soon after with his middle stump uprooted. Nixon was caught behind off a thin edge and Sajid Mahmood was cleaned up with an off-cutter.

England desperately needed something between 220 and 250 to mount a challenge. Instead they managed 54 in 48 overs.

A blistering chase
Yet few could have predicted the relish with which Graeme Smith and AB DeVilliers opened their chase. They launched a blistering attack on the English bowlers. With Vaughn looking for wickets and having no option but to set an attacking field, poor Sajid Mahmood was tonked for 28 runs in his first two overs. Flintoff and Anderson hardly made a dent.

With South Africa running away with the game Vaughn turned to his last wicket-taking hope Monty Panesar well within the first power play. On a pitch with such good bounce, the margin of error for Monty was razor thin. If he pitched it up, he would get driven or swept. If he pulled it back, the ball would stand up begging to be pulled or cut. Monty went for 24 in his two.

The openers seal the game
When he is in the mood, DeVilliers is a lot of fun to watch. He bristles with aggression and loves to play the big shots, although he comes across as less cocky than his captain. His 42 came off 35 balls and was the best innings in the game. His opening partner Smith was ferociously unrelenting. We’ve seen time and again that Smith really likes to establish early dominance over the bowlers. He did exactly that today - his 89 came in 53 balls and absolutely flattened the English bowlers.

Semi-finalists in place
South Africa deserve this place in the semis – of that I have no doubt. They probably even deserve a place in the finals. We’ll have to wait and see. The best four teams in this Cup are in the last four and that is reason enough for fans to sit back with high expectations.


Kalyan said...

After a long time I saw SA play a superb innings, I'm still doubtful if it is becuase of opponent is Eng or SA played its natural cricket. Anyway semis would be intersting to watch, hope 1999 is not repeated by SA and Gibbs this time hopefully doesn't drop Ponting as he did with Waugh in 1999.

Unknown said...

When SA get a good start, they look like a killer team. And that's what happened against England. The semis should be fun because all the teams are really good right now.