Even as India were battling Ireland on one hand, England pulled off nothing short of a major upset against South Africa, considering their shocking defeat against the Irish. And what the Englishmen’s victory over the Proteas has ensured is that the battle for top spot in Group B remains wide open. It wasn’t a convincing performance from England by any stretch of the imagination. However, a crumbling pitch and below par batting effort combined by some good under pressure bowling from England saw the game tilt in the bowling side’s favour. It is a win that will give England some much-needed confidence following two winless games.
Things did not look great for England at the start of the game when they kept losing wickets on a difficult pitch. But to their credit, they fought back well with the ball to resurrect their World Cup hopes. England’s win can basically to credit to a few hard-fought performances under pressure. With the bat it was Jonathan Trott and Ravi Bopara, who played saviours for the Englishmen. Had it not been for the duo, England wouldn’t have been in with a chance at all irrespective of the nature of the pitch. In hindsight, both Trott and Bopara assessed the conditions perfectly as they went about rebuilding the innings in the perfect manner. Not going for the big shots, Trott and Bopara steadied the England innings by rotating the strike and picking up all the runs on offer. It was their effort that England at least had an outside chance of going for victory. However, one shouldn’t forget Graeme Swann’s effort with the bat as well. Getting away some crucial boundaries in the final power play overs proved to be highly decisive for England as they ended by winning by a mere five runs. The off-spinner’s contribution with the bat has often been underestimated, but on this occasion he deserves credit for his handy knock.
If Swann played his part with the bat, he did a commendable job with the ball as well, getting the better of opposition skipper Graeme Smith with a wonderful delivery that did enough to take the gloves of Smith and land into a safe hand behind the wickets. Even as Swann bowled, it were Stuart Broad and James Anderson who did the bulk of the damage. England needed Anderson to get among the wickets sooner rather than later. And thankfully for them, he found his bearings as he managed to find some reverse swing midway through the innings and gave his team the crucial breakthroughs that kept them in the game. From England’s perspective, hopefully Anderson will bowl with a renewed vigour in the future games ahead.
If Anderson gave England a foot in the door, it was Broad to broke open the door to victory. Like Anderson, he also used the moving ball to great effect as the Proteas crumbled under the ever growing pressure. Not only did Broad keep getting wickets at regular intervals, but also maintained a tight line and length, maintaining the pressure throughout. This was an absolutely essential aspect of his bowling as England weren’t defending a huge score and hence needed to keep the runs down to the minimum.
Even though the bowlers took England to victory, it was apt that the man of the match award went to Bopara. On a bowling pitch, his effort was a definite standout. Coming in as a last minute replacement for Eoin Morgan, Bopara has performed credibly for his team in the World Cup. Against Netherlands, it was his cameo that took away the pressure they were placed under. And, against South Africa too, he stood amidst the ruins. Speaking of Morgan, there is further good news for England as he himself will now be flown in as a replacement for the injured Kevin Pietersen, who has been ruled out of the remainder of the tournament. While Pietersen’s injury is not the best piece of news to come out of the English camp, it might well be a silent blessing in disguise for them as Morgan is just the kind of player England need to shore up their eleven. And if they can show further improvement in their bowling and fielding, the English will still be a force to reckon with, the disaster against Ireland notwithstanding.
If the win did a lot of good for England, the loss should serve as a timely wake-up call for South Africa who, until then, were firmly entrenched on top of the table. The defeat has pushed them right down to number four. Of course they will not stay down there for long and should make it to the quarter finals. However, it was their inability to chase down a moderate total against a team low on confidence that should worry them. True, the conditions were extremely difficult and the bowlers were on top once they got through the cream of the batting. However, this is where top teams are adept at battling adversity.
To win the World Cup should be able to perform and overcome the worst of conditions. This is where Australia were so good at their peak. South Africa, unfortunately, have often crumbled in such situations, which explains why they are yet to lay their hand on the coveted trophy. Four years back they succumbed to Bangladesh on a pitch that assisted their spinners, and here again they faltered to battle the tough conditions. It is not so much their so called choking habit but the inability to perform in challenging conditions despite having all the talent in the world that has proved to be the bane of South African cricket. And that needs to change if they want to be crowned as the number one team in the world.
The upcoming games will give us clear idea of how far South Africa have progressed in the abovementioned aspect over the years. And, it was also play a major role in determining how far the Proteas progress in this tournament.
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