The pitch at the MA Chidambaram stadium at Chennai produced a marvellous match of one-day international cricket between South Africa and England, in a Group B encounter of the ICC Cricket World Cup. Spinners ruled the roost as England defeated South Africa by six runs to gain two points and revive their hopes of a quarter final berth.
Andrew Strauss, the England skipper, won the toss and opted to bat on a day of clear skies and bright sunshine. Graeme Smith, the South Africa captain, chose left arm spinner Robin Peterson to open the bowling. The move was a very smart one as he picked two wickets in the over. Strauss came down the track and lofted Peterson but could only find the fielder at the deep. He made the mistake of not going straight over the bowler’s head where the gap was. In the last ball of the over, Peterson got the ball to turn away from Kevin Pietersen whose edge travelled to slip where Jacques Kallis made no mistake. England were 3/2 so early in the match.
Ian Bell fell in the 5th over as he came forward with intent to attack Peterson but played too early at the ball and the ball travelled to the left of the bowler who dived to take the return catch. England’s batting was in shatters. Jonathan Trott and Ravi Bopara combined to revive the innings after the early shocks. At one point of time, South Africa used four spinners – the frontline spinners Peterson and the impressive Imran Tahir and the part timers Faf Du Plessis and JP Duminy. Such was the purchase the spinners got from the pitch.
In the 24th over, Bopara lofted Duminy straight down the ground for the first six of the match and soon England reached 100 without further loss. Jonathan Trott pull swept a Peterson delivery square of the wicket to bring up another boundary as England tried to accelerate. Soon after getting a well deserved fifty, Trott was deceived in flight by Tahir and drove the ball back to the bowler who dived to his left to hold the catch. Bopara also got to his fifty soon and with Matt Prior would have fancied the chances of going after the South African bowlers.
However, it was not to be as wickets fell at regular intervals and England folded for 171 in the 46th over. Peterson was well supported by Tahir who picked another four wicket haul. At the innings break, South Africa were clearly on top with the kind of batting they had.
The South African reply got off to a firm start when Hashim Amla cut Michael Yardy to the cover boundary. They were chipping away at the target at a healthy rate when Smith got a glove to a turning delivery from Graeme Swann and Prior took the catch. Soon, Amla was also dismissed as he played an ugly shot and inside edged a full ball from Stuart Broad on to the stumps. Kallis fell in Broad’s next over as he edged to Prior. South Africa were struggling now to get the runs, especially against the spinners.
AB De Villiers and Du Plessis cantered along scoring off every opportunity and defending others. The match soon turned on its head. De Villiers shouldered arms to an Anderson delivery and found to his horror that the ball had clipped the bails on its way to the keeper. Du Plessis made the mistake of taking his eyes away from the ball as he flicked and set off for a run but the fielder at short leg had relayed the ball to the keeper to effect a run out. Duminy then lost his off stump to a swinging delivery from James Anderson. Three wickets had fallen for no score and suddenly England were back in the match.
Morne Van Wyk and Dale Steyn appeared to have the chase in control with a sensible partnership when Tim Bresnan was brought back into the attack. Van Wyk shaped to cut a ball too close to his body and edged it onto his stumps. The match was done and dusted in the next over as Broad had Steyn plumb in front and Morkel tried a big shot but could only edge the ball behind. England’s fielders were ecstatic and they had pulled off a remarkable win!
England will do well not to be too happy with the result as a minefield of a pitch enabled their bowlers to be among the wickets. It remains to be seen whether their bowlers will be as successful on flat tracks. They also need to shore up their batting. I still feel Kevin Pietersen is not the right man to open the batting. It just exposes the middle order that much more.
South Africa were undone by some poor judgment on a pitch that was not suited to their style of batting. The good work by Peterson and Tahir was wasted by their batsmen. They will need to work hard on how to play the spinners better on such turning tracks.