What can one say about the South African cricket team. For the fifth World Cup in a row, they got felled in the knockouts when everything seemed to be going their way. Against a New Zealand side with limited ability, they were always the favourites. And for almost 75 overs of the game, they played like that but a disciplined bowling effort and their usual brilliant fielding was enough to upset the Proteas’ applecart. Dejection was writ large on the face of skipper Graeme Smith, who was retiring from one-day cricket, but it was the loss against the Kiwis that undoubtedly hurt him more. Unfortunately, South Africa have only themselves to blame for they were cruising at one stage, but it all came down like a pack of cards.
The wicket of Jacques Kallis was without doubt the turning point of the game. Until then, they were cruising and Kiwis needed something special to be back in the game. All of a sudden, Kallis in an effort to break free went for the big hit and perished thanks to an awesome catch on the boundary by Jacob Oram. Only a man of his ‘height’ could have pulled it out. After that, the rest just could not handle the pressure cooker situation and cracked. The bad aspect from South Africa’s point of view was that a number of their batsmen got starts, but not one could go on to register that match-winning effort. Among the culprits were captain Graeme Smith, Kallis and AB de Villiers — all experienced enough to absorb the pressure of the situation, but unable to do so. It did not help that Hashim Amla had a rare failure.
Despite the Proteas’ hara-kiri, credit must be given to the Kiwis for the manner in which they kept up the pressure once they saw an opening. Their bowling wasn’t sensational by any means, they hardly possess the attack to do so. But, what they did well was to maintain a tight leash on the South African batting once they found an opening post Kallis’ exit. There were too men in particular who did exceedingly well with the ball for the Kiwis. Jacob Oram, bowling his medium pacers was on target on most occasions. He bowled a tight line and length and just did not allow them to break free. And every time the South African batsmen tried to break the shackles, they perished one after the other.
Off spinner Nathan McCullum was the other star with the ball for the Kiwis. He typified South Africa’s woes against slow bowling as three men fell to him. Between McCullum and Oram, they captured seven wickets, including some key ones like Amla, Smith and not least of all JP Duminy. The latter, who has been known to be a great finisher, too felt the heat as he played an atrocious shot to revive the Kiwis further. And the final nail in the over arrived rather soon for South Africa’s comfort. de Villiers, always lighting between the wickets, responded to an attempted quick single call from Faf du Plessis, which was never there. And it was proved by the fact that even de Villiers ended up way short of the crease despite diving full length. Was it pressure? There wasn’t much until a few moments back, but South Africa self-destructed to change things around. The pitch wasn’t playing any great tricks, but was only offering a hit of turn. Yet, South Africa batted like it was a minefield. Fauf du Plessis did try to make amends for his big-match blunder, but while there were glimpses of hope courtesy some big hits, it was too little and too late.
Unlike their batsmen, the South African bowlers did a much better job. Opening the bowling, Robin Peterson once again got the early breakthrough, read the wicket of the dangerous Brendon McCullum. And when Dale Steyn fooled Martin Guptill with a well disguised slower one early on in the innings, it seemed all one way traffic. Some even had thoughts of a game akin to the West Indies-Pakistan quarter final. But while Jesse Ryder and Ross Taylor took their time while rebuilding the innings, their approach wasn’t as negative as the one shown by Ramnaresh Sarwan and Shivnarine Chanderpaul the other day. Neither Ryder nor Taylor went for too many big hits and were content rotating the strike. The thoughts of another middle and lower order collapse akin to the one against Sri Lanka must have definitely crossed their mind, which made both the usually free scoring batsmen adopt a cautious approach. As a result, New Zealand did have wickets in hand but not a score that was challenging by any means.
Owing to their wait and watch approach, when they eventually tried to break the shackles both Ryder and Taylor fell and New Zealand found themselves in no man’s land. Thanks to a sensible cameo by the impressive Kane Williamson, the Kiwis managed to end up with a somewhat respectable total. But without doubt, at the halfway stage, South Africa held the aces thanks to their impressive showing with the ball. Steyn was once again among the wickets at the start. Irman Tahir’s impressive tournament continued as he picked up both of the big scalps of Taylor and Ryder and, towards the end, Morne Morkel returned to damage the good work done by New Zealand in the middle overs, by picking up wickets at will. The game was now South Africa’s for the taking. And, midway through their chase, all seemed to be going according to plan. How the panic button got switched on will remain a mystery.
Early loss of New Zealand openers
Rebuilding partnership between Ryder-Taylor
Tahir’s double strike
Morkel’s triple success
Amla’s early dismissal
Loss of a well set Smith
Oram’s brilliant catch to get rid of Kallis off Southee
de Villiers’ run out at a crucial juncture
End of du Plessis’ resistance