There is something about South African cricket that prevents them from winning major tournaments. Are they jinxed? One would think so after a disastrous batting collapse pushed them to a heart breaking defeat at the hands of New Zealand in the third quarter final of the ICC Cricket World Cup at Mirpur. They literally snatched defeat from the jaws of victory and once again return home empty handed. It was a sad story, really.
A target of 222 was supposed to be easy for the South African batsmen. It appeared so despite the loss of an early wicket in Hashim Amla. Graeme Smith and Jacques Kallis carried them towards the target with a partnership of 61 runs for the second wicket. Even when they lost Smith, Kallis and AB De Villiers maintained the momentum and the required rate was hardly a threat. Disaster struck in the 25th over. Kallis fell to a wonderful athletic catch from Jacob Oram and then JP Duminy played all over a Nathan McCullum delivery to lose his stumps. Two balls later, when Faf Du Plessis was responsible for the run out of the well set De Villiers, the sluice gates were open and New Zealand capitalized, dismissing the Proteas for 172 to record victory by 49 runs. Oram was the pick of the bowlers with 4/39 and was ably supported by Nathan McCullum with 3/24.
Earlier, a disciplined South African bowling at the beginning and end ensured the Kiwis could only muster 221/8 in their 50 overs. Martin Guptill and Brendon McCullum departed by the time the score was 16 and it required an excellent partnership of 114 runs in 162 balls between Ross Taylor and Jesse Ryder to restore balance in the contest. Both realized that patience was a necessary virtue to bat on the kind of surface Mirpur had. They started slowly, seeing off the good balls and getting used to the pace of the wicket, which was slow. They accelerated when the bad balls were thrown in and the partnership blossomed and threatened an explosive finish similar to the one against Pakistan.
However, to their credit, the South African bowlers bounced back and suddenly it appeared that even 200 would not be possible. Morne Morkel, Imran Tahir and Dale Steyn bowled the last 10 overs with such intensity that runs were hard to come by and the wickets fell at regular intervals. In this context, Kane Williamson’s unbeaten innings of 38 in 41 balls was invaluable. He is not your hard hitting batsman but is more in the traditional mould. He lived up to the adage – when the going gets tough, the tough get going. However, 221 was inadequate, one thought at the innings break. But Jacob Oram and his fellow Kiwi bowlers had other ideas on this night.
South Africa did hardly anything wrong in this match except when the pressure mounted at the fall of Kallis and Duminy. Their bowling was disciplined and penetrative as ever and their batting was solid during the phase when Kallis and De Villiers were batting. It was the lower middle order that did not fire and though Du Plessis tried his best, it was not enough. After a string of good performances in the league stages, they were developing into favorites to win the title. They had a refreshingly new attitude highlighted by Imran Tahir, the first attacking spinner to play for South Africa. Time will, hopefully, heal the wounds of this painful defeat and they will return in 2015 to start from scratch and hope to break the jinx.
New Zealand will be surprised with the way they won tonight but all credit to their fighting spirit. They never shed their belief and a tight bowling and fielding effort helped them to snatch the life out of the South African batsmen. Jacob Oram reinvented himself with today’s bowling effort and this should rub off on his batting in the semi-final. It has not been a consistent tournament for the Kiwis with only a win against Pakistan something to talk about. But things will be different from now on. Brimming with confidence, they now travel to Colombo where they will meet either Sri Lanka or England for a place in the final of a tournament they too have never won.