Proteas floor Black Caps in lopsided final
Give away a bonus point, offer a team a berth in a finals series, and evidently media criticism, a small crowd, and an eight wicket hiding is all that New Zealand receives by way of thanks. Or at least that's the way it seems after South Africa's batsmen, bowlers and fielders all savaged the Black Caps to open up a 1-0 lead in the best-of-three VB Series deciders in Melbourne tonight.
It had lost three of its four previous matches against South Africa in the series and won only one of its last 16 games against the Proteas overall. And, today, New Zealand never really looked in the game either.
Lopsided as the contest may have been, though, there was plenty to appreciate in the performances of a number of the South Africans. The bowling of Makhaya Ntini (5/31) was outstanding; Shaun Pollock (1/30) and Lance Klusener (2/27) were also consistently threatening; and then Boeta Dippenaar (79*) and Jacques Kallis (59*) led not so much a chase of a victory target of 191 as a saunter.
The New Zealanders (the targets of criticism on both sides of the Tasman over recent days for their decision to give away a bonus point to South Africa in their previous match) had the opportunity to tilt the scales their way when captain Stephen Fleming enjoyed a victory at the toss.
But, while that outcome killed any prospect that they would be forced to chase another big South African total, it only hastened the emergence of further problems at the top of the New Zealand batting order.
Even before falling to early catches behind the wicket in the midst of Ntini's sizzling opening spell, openers Nathan Astle (9) and Lou Vincent (7) played with uncertainty. Only 15 runs were added in a first wicket partnership that extended a dismal run for the New Zealanders at the top of the order across the series as a whole.
Craig McMillan (73) and Fleming (50) rebuilt the innings with a partnership of 109 runs for the third wicket. But their stand was blessed more by patience than by power and there was never a real flow about New Zealand's exhibition.
As the strain of needing to accelerate the run scoring rate eventually impacted upon them, the Black Caps lost their way. Fleming, Andre Adams (13), Dion Nash (9) and Chris Cairns (0) all hit catches into the leg side while ambitiously attacking; McMillan and Shane Bond (1) badly misjudged singles to be run out; and Chris Harris (9) and Adam Parore (2) feathered from outside edges to the 'keeper.
Ntini rattled batsmen into error at both ends of the innings; Klusener collected two wickets in an over; and Pollock's trademark awareness of near-perfect line and length meant he was always at the batsmen.
Nevertheless, there was no great venom in the pitch and a number of the New Zealanders' wounds were self-inflicted.
They would have learnt a lesson about measured batting if they had closely watched Gary Kirsten (25) and Herschelle Gibbs (24) assemble their third half-century stand of the series in reply. Or Dippenaar and Kallis in their unbroken, risk-averse union of 139 runs.
Once the two openers had weathered the new ball threat posed by Bond (0/21) and seen Nash (0/6) succumb to an abdominal muscle strain after only one over, the result was never in doubt.
Kirsten fell to a run out verdict that was unlucky on two counts - given that it was caused by a deflection back on to the stumps from bowler McMillan and that several replays were needed before it could be assumed that the veteran left hander's bat had merely reached rather than traversed the line of his crease as a bail was lifted.
But Dippenaar then looked contrastingly lucky to survive a caught behind decision as he drove inside the line of a Cairns (1/27) leg cutter with his score at just 6. With the New Zealanders needing even so much as half-chances to translate themselves into wickets, it was a decision that eliminated even the last signs of activity from a flickering pulse.
Dippenaar, who has been due good fortune all tour, was later dropped in the gully when he aimed a powerful cut toward Fleming with his total at 40. He capitalised on the two reprieves with magnificent driving to both sides of the wicket and disdainful punishment of short deliveries with some glorious horizontal-bat strokes.
Kallis, ever-composed, assisted in the cause in no small measure at the other end.
A crowd of only 20671 arrived all the while, producing the spectacle of vast banks of empty seats on a fine and sunny day and at least challenging the contention that sports-loving Melburnians will turn up in their droves to watch any international game.
With no bonus points on offer to help spark a contest, what the patrons saw was a remorseless performance.