Rain, hail and shine as South Africans triumph
Hailstones, cyclonic hitting from Chris Cairns and Lou Vincent, and some searing pace bowling from Andre Adams all thwarted their progress. But South Africa's cricketers have weathered a series of storms in Sydney today to defeat New Zealand by six wickets and deservedly be crowned VB Series champions for 2001-02.
That the match began in sunny conditions - rather than the bleak ones which had been forecast - was initially a prospect to warm the hearts of New Zealand's supporters. For any kind of cancellation would have been a disastrous blow to their team's aspirations of pegging back a 1-0 deficit in these best-of-three deciders.
Yet they would ultimately have preferred for Sydney's near-ceaseless rain to have wiped out the match entirely.
Because the domination of the South African pace attack over a shaky New Zealand upper order was again transparent as soon as the match commenced.
A mid-afternoon downpour that mixed rainfall of varying power with thunder and lightning (as well as a galaxy of milky-white hailstones, some as big as golf balls in dimension) arrived to provide welcome respite for as many as 91 minutes. But, by that time, the Black Caps' line-up had all but imploded in any case.
After Vincent (43) and Nathan Astle (7) were forced into eating up 25 consecutive dot balls at the start of the innings, the latter lost patience to swing a catch off Shaun Pollock (1/24) to deep square leg. Therein, he set the trend for batting that was never disciplined enough to suit the circumstances.
Adams (1), promoted to the number three slot, nibbled at a Makhaya Ntini (1/45) leg cutter to offer a catch that wicketkeeper Mark Boucher claimed spectacularly to his right. Vincent, after a flurry of thrilling strokes, lobbed a ball to wide mid on; Stephen Fleming (17) was brilliantly caught at short fine leg; and Craig McMillan (0) top edged with a pull to mid wicket.
Fleming's victory at the toss represented not so much a prize as a poisoned chalice. Half of his batting line-up had been wiped out in less than 16 overs.
All-rounder Cairns (57) replied to the crisis with customary aplomb and received fine support from that other beacon of middle order defiance, Chris Harris (31), as the pair mounted a plucky 75-run partnership for the sixth wicket.
But, all around them, wickets were crashing with a haste that was indecent for a finals match.
After Harris was trapped lbw, Adam Parore (0) chipped a catch to mid wicket; Daniel Vettori (3) was caught shuffling across the crease by Allan Donald (3/29); James Franklin (0) was deceived by a perfect inswinger, and Cairns drove a catch to long on from Jacques Kallis (3/23) with as many as 29 deliveries still available.
South African bowlers twice found themselves on hat-tricks: Lance Klusener (2/30) firing Harris and Parore back to the pavilion from successive balls before Donald condemned Vettori and Franklin to the same predicament.
Cairns and Vincent bravely attempted to hit their team out of trouble, the latter even launching two of the most extraordinary shots of the series in the process - one used to hoist a full delivery from Pollock over the mid on fence with a belligerent drive and the second inspiring the same result with a pull from head height at Ntini.
But the necessary support to take the total beyond a paltry 175 never arrived.
It couldn't be said that their bowling at either end of the innings necessarily won them the series. Because there were, in truth, a range of factors which led to their triumph. Yet it all but ensured that the Proteas couldn't lose it. It was another magnificent alliance of sustained pace and unerring control.
As they chased a revised target of 172 from a maximum 46 overs under the Duckworth/Lewis method, the South Africans' victory plans were briefly threatened by a fine early spell from Adams (2/33). The young right armer from Auckland exploited variable bounce from a grassless and surprisingly dry pitch, teasing Kallis (10) into outside edging with an off drive and then forcing an aggressive Herschelle Gibbs (46) to inside edge back into his stumps.
But he lost a chance to seize a third wicket when Boeta Dippenaar (29) - with his score at 3 - cut through the hands of Harris in the gully. It was effectively the end of the contest too.
Joined by Jonty Rhodes (61*), Dippenaar proceeded to form one half of a 73-run fourth wicket alliance that masterfully powered the Proteas toward their win - one ultimately achieved with a whopping 47 deliveries to spare.
While there were as many as 30,684 spectators at the ground to see it, the finish of the match was not quite played out amid the electrical atmosphere that it might have deserved. All the same, though, the South Africans stormed to the line in a manner that befitted their status as the best team of the series.