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New Zealand turned in a fine all-round performance to beat South Africa by five wickets in a Super Eights match and seal a berth in the semi-finals of the World Cup on Saturday.
Chasing a meagre 194 for victory, the Kiwis, powered by fifties from skipper Stephen Fleming and Scott Styris, were home in the 49th over.
Earlier, New Zealand's bowlers exploited the conditions to have the Proteas in early trouble from which they never really recovered.
Opening bowlers Shane Bond and James Franklin claimed a wicket apiece in the first three overs before Craig McMillan bagged three cheap wickets at the end, including that of top scorer Herschelle Gibbs (60), who posted his eighth World Cup half-century, to restrict the South Africans.South Africa innings
Two potential semi-finalists went into a key head-to-head at the National Stadium in Grenada -- and Luck sat on Stephen Fleming's shoulder as he walked out to toss.
A greenish surface with dark splotches hinting at sub-surface moisture was all the provocation needed for Stephen Fleming to insert South Africa after winning the toss; it was also the only provocation Shane Bond needed to unleash a superb spell of swing and seam at searing pace.
Graeme Smith took a single to the last ball of the first over of the innings, from James Franklin. At the other end, Bond began with a wide, then bowled an absolute jaffa that beat the batsman for pace, line and movement and clearly left him shaken and stirred.
The next four legitimate deliveries of the over were a repetition of the torture - at no point did Smith have the faintest clue what was coming and where it was going. Tired of going past the bat, Bond slowed his pace down just a touch, increased the length by a fraction, and got the outside edge of Smith's gingerly prodding bat, for Jacob Oram at cover point to dive to his left and hold (1/12; 3/1)
Abraham de Villiers had been stood at the other end all along, while his captain was being stretched on the rack and slowly grilled to a crisp. In the third over, he squared up to Franklin - and discovered how difficult batting could be. Five successive times, he confronted deliveries that either slanted across him and went with the arm, or straightened around his off stump and then seamed away past his outer edge.
Having set the batsman up, Franklin produced the one darting back in, and pinned the batsman in front of the stumps (0/6; 3/2). When seam bowlers produce such dismissals, we say `predictable' - and, when you are sitting in front of a television screen watching, it actually is. Out there, though, with the ball darting around as if some sadist was pulling its strings, it is a whole other ball game - as Franklin was the latest to discover.
The fourth over of the innings was the best yet: Bond to McCullum, while Jacques Kallis stood between the two, wondering what the hell was going on. He went forward and was beaten, he went back and was beaten, he stayed in place and was beaten, and each time he looked up and smiled ruefully at Bond who smiled politely back, then went to his mark and raced in to repeat the circle.
It says much for Kallis' quality that he survived that over, and the ones to follow while at the other end, Herschelle Gibbs too hung on for dear life. Both batsmen were clearly waiting for Bond to tire. The wicket easing off would have been the other aspect they were anticipating - but with a good sized cloud cover over the ground and the sun not among the spectators, that was always going to take longer than usual.
Jacob Oram's introduction in the 9th over, replacing Franklin, was the signal for both batsmen to breathe a bit easier, though it was off Bond in the 10th that Gibbs first signaled there were two teams on the park. The batsman was beaten by Bond twice in the over, yet on the one occasion Bond increased his length, Gibbs glided forward to play an extra cover drive that would have been high class on a batting service; in the given conditions, it was close to miraculous.
Recent reports have suggested that there was some heartburn within the Proteas camp over Kallis' slow-scoring in the earlier game against Australia; hot words were supposedly aimed at the all-rounder by more than one member of the team. Those who spoke then, must have watched in some awe as the batsman, with great skill and the odd slice of luck, negotiated nightmarish conditions, bided his time, and struck as soon as he found conditions conducive.
That was in the 13th over: Kallis, till then having survived 36 deliveries for four runs (3 runs off 20 balls from Bond) skipped nimbly down the track to Jacob Oram, got under the ball and elevated it over the long off boundary, hitting with his customary flair inside out, to get the six that more than doubled his score.
Inspired, Gibbs gave Oram the charge in the bowler's next over. This time Oram saw the move and dragged it short, but Gibbs merely changed his intended lofted drive into a forehand down the line smash that blasted the ball over the long on boundary, and brought Brendan McCullum up to the stumps.
Oram, the weak link in the Kiwi seam lineup, went for 23 in his first five, forcing Fleming to turn to his two spinners, Jeeten Patel and Daniel Vettori, as early as the 19th and 20th overs.
Batting didn't get any easier after Bond left the attack - it merely seemed that way. The static scoreboard of the first ten overs had left its impact, though, on batsmen who realized that at some point, they had to be more proactive in looking for runs - and this was the last over of the power plays. And, who knows, maybe all the barbs aimed at Kallis for his slow batting was echoing inside of him somewhere.
Whatever - in Vettori's first over, Kallis skipped down the track, going legside to make room and looking to clear the infield. The bowler has this habit of pausing at the top of his delivery stride, and the ability to drag the ball down if he senses a charge - here, he held it back just enough to force the mis-hit, the ball flaring up off the outer edge of the bat for Bond to hold with comfort at a widish mid off (22/54; 52/3).
The two spinners have thus far operated superbly in tandem, keeping a tight rein on both batsmen. Gibbs in particular kept trying to break free, but tight lines and great ground fielding kept him down to the occasional hard-run single. The sun is slightly more visible that it was at the start of the innings, but not enough to burn off the moisture. It would really be ironic if its effect was felt in the second half, making conditions perfect for batting - for now, the Proteas have a struggle to bat on, and put some sort of total on the board.
Progression: Overs 1-25
5 overs: 5/2 @ 1.00 (Kallis 2/8; Gibbs 0/5)
10 overs: 12/2 @ 1.20 (Kallis 4/27; Gibbs 5/16)
15 overs: 34/2 @ 2.26 (Kallis 14/41; Gibbs 15/32)
20 overs: 52/3 @ 2.60 (Gibbs 25/49; Prince 0/0)
25 overs: 68/3 @ 2.72 (Gibbs 34/59; Prince 7/2))
Overs 26 - 50
The second half of the South African innings was the story of a struggle: a succession of New Zealand bowlers coming to the crease and attempting to choke the life out of the Proteas, and the batsmen grimly resisting and, just occasionally, attempting to eke out valuable runs.
The two Kiwi spinners played varying roles in this grim - if not dramatic, in typical one day terms - struggle. Vettori, the senior spinner with eight wickets already this World Cup, was not quite at his best; against that Jeeten Patel, the off spinner, produced a superlative spell, using changes of pace, line, length and degree of spin and turn to keep the batsmen on a very very tight leash (his first, prolonged, spell went 8-1-19-0, and helped Fleming enforce discipline on the batsmen in the middle overs).
Around the 35 over mark, the Proteas appeared to have repaired a large part of the damage. The run rate at that point (3.31) was nothing to boast home about, neither was the score (116/3). But the hidden advantage was that Gibbs and Prince were set; they had hitters like Boucher and Pollock to follow, and could realistically think of putting 230, maybe more, on the board.
Making that ambition more realistic was the fact that the Kiwi bowlers hadn't been able to match the accuracy, and parsimony, of Bond and Patel. Vettori was expensive, going at five an over in a game where the batting side had never touched that run rate; Styris was even more expensive and even Jacob Oram was bucking the innings run rate and going at 4.5 or more.
Fleming gambled big time, bringing McMillan on as late as the 37th over - and wouldn't you know it, the part-timer struck in his very first over. Gibbs had batted all along with commendable patience, seemingly intent on batting right down to the end - but the introduction of the part-timer finally snapped his patience. Gibbs had a drive at a ball outside off, without really moving his feet, and managed only to inside edge the ball onto his stumps 60/100; 128/4).
Bond came on in the 40th over and produced a tight over, giving just one run. And at the other end, McMillan struck again. This time it was Prince, who like Gibbs had batted with a great sense of responsibility, who lost the plot - he looked to chip-drive the ball straight, but was foxed by a change down in pace, hit too soon, and picked out Patel at long off (37/57; 143/5).
Fleming seemed to realize he was on to a good thing, and kept McMillan going - and sure enough, the visibly excited bowler struck again in his fourth over. It was Boucher's turn to try and dismiss McMillan; he went down on one knee to a ball wide of off, looking to loft over long on, again misread the slower ball, and got the ball down the throat of Peter Fulton at long on (16/21; 149/6).
Those three wickets pushed the Proteas right behind the eight ball. The team had needed one of either Gibbs or Prince to bat through, preferably Prince, while the strokeplayers increased the tempo around him. A succession of ill judged shots put paid to those plans, and forced the likes of Pollock and Hall to work singles where they would have been looking for the boundaries (after 45 overs, there were just six fours, and two sixes).
The parsimonious Patel was brought back in the 47th over; Pollock, underlining his credentials as a dangerous late overs player, slog swept the last ball of the off spinner's 9th over, from outside off, high over midwicket for six.
Bond came on in the 48th; Andrew Hall cracked a boundary through midwicket when an attempted yorker misfired, but to the very next ball, was deceived when Bond produced the slower ball; Hall looked to make room and blast it over the boundary, but managed only to pick out Oram at long off (17/17; 181/7).
Patel produced a magnificent last over, the 49th of the innings, which produced a mere six (10-1-36-0; an inspired spell of slow left arm spin that bottled one end up). Bond, in the final over, kept Peterson from breaking loose with a succession of slower balls; the batsman finally managed to go across his stumps and paddle a boundary to fine leg, taking the ball from outside off stump. That four notwithstanding, the final over produced just six, and South Africa ended with 193/7.
For South Africa, the score is well below par. Despite the conditions, SA needed to be, at the least, 230 to put any sort of pressure on the Kiwis.
Another worrying note is that when Bond bowled his final two overs, there was no sign of the exaggerated seam and swing he got in his first spell - a clear sign that the pitch is in the process of settling down, with the sun slowly leaching the moisture out of the deck.
Fleming did brilliantly in his leadership role. Opting to bowl was a no-brainer - but having done that, he needed to use his limited resources to optimum effect. The Kiwis have just Bond, and Vettori, as strike bowlers; Franklin is competent at best, Styris and Oram are the sort of part-timers who might, or might not, get you the odd wicket; and Patel is clearly the second choice spinner.
To harness that kind of an attack, and to keep the Proteas down under 200, was in large part the result of outstanding captaincy, and that just might make the difference between the two sides in the end.
Progression: 26-50 overs
30 overs: 89/3 @ 2.96 (Gibbs 46/79; Prince 15/30)
35 overs: 116/3 @ 3.31 (Gibbs 57/94; Prince 25/45)
40 overs: 138/4 @ 3.45 (Prince 36/55; Boucher 8/14)
45 overs: 158/6 @ 3.51 (Pollock 4/14; Hall 7/7)
50 overs: 193/7 @ 3.86 (Pollock 21/26; Peterson 8/8).
New Zealand innings
Going into the second half of the game, South Africa didn't really have - or need to have - a game plan, unless you can call 'bowl them out' a game plan.
The Proteas needed wickets - 10 of them, in a hurry; it really was as simple as that, because with the sun brightening, there was no way either rain, or a steamy pitch, would allow them the luxury of defending 194.
That in turn dictated the New Zealand response. Fleming went into this game knowing that a win would put his side in the semis, without having to worry about the outcome of its final game against Australia. To win, the Kiwis needed to bat out 50 overs - given how small the target was, you could not do that, and still lose.
The batting plan seemed to be for Fleming to put out his stall and guide the innings, while the others batted around him. How religiously they stuck to this plan, and how unobtrusively it was executed, is apparent from one stat alone: At the end of 15 overs, Fleming had faced just 31 deliveries while Peter Fulton, who opened alongside his captain, had faced that money before getting out in the 8th over.
The idea clearly was for Fleming's partner to take the bulk of the strike and score the bulk of the runs, while the captain remained the calming presence. First Fulton, then Taylor, played the role, with Fulton looking good from the get-go. Against the tight Pollock and pacy Nel, Fulton got well behind the ball, and once he got his eye in, opened out with two lovely fours in the 6th over, first pulling Ntini to fine leg, then flicking him off his pads behind square.
He was in fact batting so fluently, his wicket came against the run of play - Ntini bowled well outside off, Fulton aimed a drive at it without really bothering to get his foot across, and managed only to edge to Andrew Hall at second slip (16/32; 25/1).
Ross Taylor, all of 21 ODIs old coming into this game, seemed intent on playing with the freedom of the very young; he was looking to have a hit at nearly everything when luck went against him. The Ntini delivery, in the 13th over, landed outside off and jagged back in at good pace, defeating the intended flick. Taylor was up on his toes looking to play the whip off the pads, the ball hit pad above the knee roll, but umpire Mark Benson put his finger up in a hurry and Taylor was unlucky to go (10/17; 42/2).
Next up Scott Styris, who started off by easing a brace down the ground, and shifted up the gears by rocking back and crashing Nel through point.
The Kiwi progress was by no means spectacular, but it was steady enough - even relentless enough - to cause Proteas' spirits to flag early. And when that happens, even the best of fielding teams - and this one, with Jonty Rhodes for fielding coach, can brag about being one of the best - misses chances.
In the first half of the Kiwi innings, the Proteas put down two. In the 17th over, Nel banged one in short at Styris. He had been letting the right hander have the occasional short one, preying on a perceived weakness. After a couple of clumsy dodges, Styris elected to pull this one, failed to hit it cleanly and Ashwell Prince, at square leg, got his hands to the ball but couldn't hold on. The camera flashed to Gibbs, at point, shaking his head in evident disgust.
In the 21st over, the hardworking Nel decided to let Fleming have a taste of the short stuff. Fleming, like Styris, aimed the pull but failed to get properly inside the line; he only managed a top edge and Boucher, standing well back, went up, got both gloves to it, and grassed the chance.
Robin Peterson has never been the go-to guy for the Proteas - the left arm bowler who made his debut against India in Colombo, in the first semifinal of the ICC Champions' Trophy of that year, has only managed 35 ODIs since, including this one (and in that time, got a mere 16 wickets at 59.96, so perhaps you can't blame the selectors for not picking him more often.
Smith turned to him in the 24th over as something of a last resort. He did well enough, giving away just three runs in his first over, but then neither Fleming nor Styris are really looking to go after the bowling.
At the halfway mark, the Kiwis have things under control. Their progress till this point is admittedly on the slow side - but then, despite batting in first gear, they only have another 107 runs to make and 25 overs and eight wickets to get them in, so it is perhaps understandable that the Kiwi mindset seems to be to make very, very sure they don't stumble this close to the gateway to the semis.
Progression: 1-25 overs
5 overs: 12/0 @ 2.40 (Fulton 7/23; Fleming 4/7); Required rate 4.04
10 overs: 39/1 @ 3.90 (Fleming 13/17; Taylor 8/11); Required rate 3.87
15 overs: 48/2 @ 3.20 (Fleming 16/31; Styris 4/10); Required rate 4.17
20 overs: 66/2 @ 3.30 (Fleming 23/48; Styris 14/23); Required rate 4.26
25 overs: 88/2 @ 3.52 (Fleming 35/69; Styris 21/33); Required rate 4.24.
Overs 26 - 49
The Proteas continued their sub-par performance in the field in the second half of the chase.
In the 27th over, Kallis bowled one wide of off, going wider still. Fleming chased it with the cut, managed only to get the toe of the bat to it, and Herschelle Gibbs of all people, at point, dived, got the ball in both hands, and let it go.
Fleming was on 36 at the time; in the 30th over he got to a patiently compiled 50, off the last ball of a Peterson over that produced 12 runs - and, off the first ball of the next over, finally went. Pollock had just come on; Fleming went back and tried to cut a ball that was going away from him and Boucher, standing up, finally held (50/84 balls; 120/3).
The Kiwis needed another 74, off 119 deliveries, with seven wickets in hand at the time, and McMillan and Styris settled down to get those.
From the time Pollock came on for his second spell, the South African intent was to try and bowl tight, and produce some pressure by drying up the runs. Pollock did his bit: he went 5-0-16-0 his first spell; 5-0-14-1 in his second and final spell.
The problem with South Africa's attempt to dry the runs up was that the target was not large enough to drive the ask into the 6-7 rpo category, even given a couple of maidens on the trot - and in any case, the Proteas didn't have another bowler around to back up Pollock's niggardly effort from the other end.
The Kiwis just rode that period out, then gradually opened up as the innings went into the last ten overs. McMillan played the aggressor - relatively speaking, that is, since none of the Kiwi batsmen really looked for flat out attack, preferring to keep the focus on just getting past the line - cracking Ntini through the covers in the 41st over, and brutally slogging a Peterson delivery over widish long on for six in the 42nd.
The in-form Styris, who had batted patiently all along, got an adrenalin attack around that stage; his attempt to go down the track and hoist Peterson out of the park in the 44th ended with the ball going straight up in the air, for Gibbs at mid off to run back and hold a well judged catch (56/84; 176/4).
It didn't really matter, though - the Kiwis needed a mere 18 runs at that stage, from 38 balls. McMillan (38 not out off 55) and Oram ensured that the Kiwis got close to that line. With two runs to get, Oram tried to smear the ball out of the Caribbean, played all around a Nel yorker, and was bowled (10/18; 192/5). McCullum came out, took guard, walked down the track and smacked Nel's second ball through the covers for four to finish the job off.
You can quibble that the Kiwis, who got to the target with 10 balls remaining, should have gotten there much quicker. To which, a Fleming might ask, what's the big deal? The focus was clearly on getting to the semis, the sensible move was to make sure of the win, rather than lose wickets trying for a quick win.
For Stephen Fleming, the result is a great relief - the Kiwis are through to the next stage, irrespective of what happens in their final group game against Australia.
For Graeme Smith, who has been repeatedly insisting that run rates are not top of the mind for him, a few chickens have come home to roost.
The day before this game, he said that if South Africa won its next two games, it would coast into the semi-finals, without having to bother with run rates and such - which was true enough as far as it goes. The problem was, Plan B was missing - and the defeat today indicates the danger of ignoring such essential components of a league phase as the net run rate.
It is true enough that Smith was merely echoing Ricky Ponting's thoughts; the Australian captain had similarly said that he figured if Australia won all its matches, through to the final, it didn't need to worry about such things as run rates anyway.
The difference between the two sides thus far is two-fold: First, Australia has won all its matches, while South Africa managed to go and lose to Bangladesh; second, Australia has the best run rate anyway, of the eight teams in the competition, while South Africa before this game began was the only one in the top five to have a negative rate, behind England, Sri Lanka, New Zealand and Australia.
It can be argued that South Africa could have done very little about today's result, once Smith lost the toss and was asked to bat on a beast of a wicket. Fair enough, but the Proteas are now paying a price not for today's defeat, but for its inexplicable performance in the second half of its game against the West Indies earlier last week, when it had the hosts, chasing an improbable 356, down at 142/5 in the 25th over, and 181/7 in the 32nd, and then allowed the game to amble along for the next 13-odd overs, five of which were bowled by Smith himself while the likes of Colleymore (12 not out off 12), Powell (48 off 36) and Bradshaw (20/45) filled their boots and the West Indies went on to make 289, more than doubling the score at the halfway mark.
That was a wasted opportunity to do its net run rate a bit of good, and now South Africa face a tricky game against England at the Kensington Oval, Barbados, on Tuesday. If England wins, it equals South Africa on points - and will edge it comfortably on the run rate, and that is when an `uh-oh' could be heard from the Proteas dressing room.
Progression: 26 - 45
30 overs: 120/2 @ 4.00 (Fleming 50/83; Styris 36/49); Required rate 3.70
35 overs: 131/3 @ 3.74 (McMillan 5/18; Styris 41/60); Required rate 4.20
40 overs: 153/3 @ 3.82 (McMillan 18/33; Styris 49/75)
45 overs: 182/4 @ 4.04 (McMillan 37/48; Oram 2/6); Required rate 2.40The Cup: Complete Coverage
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