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The Bulletin by Anand Vasu
March 24, 2007
The first-round match between South Africa and Australia threatened to be a repeat of the epic at the Wanderers, but St Kitts' Warner Park is no Wanderers, and history steadfastly refused to repeat itself. Australia comfortably defended their 377 for 6, which was set up by Matthew Hayden's fastest World Cup century, and South Africa finished 83 runs adrift.
Adam Gilchrist and Hayden put on a century opening stand in less than 15 overs, setting up a launching pad from which the middle-order could wade into the bowling. South Africa's innings started in a similar same way and it was AB de Villiers who ignited the run chase of 378. He stated his intentions emphatically in the first over by crashing a boundary and then following it with an audacious short-arm jab that sailed over midwicket for six.
Ricky Ponting began with Nathan Bracken and Shaun Tait, and the first five overs yielded a dangerously high 40 runs. Glenn McGrath then replaced Tait, and even the miserly metronome didn't know what hit him, being welcomed into the attack with a hat-trick of crisply struck fours. After ten overs South Africa were still well on course, having scored 73 and still not lost a wicket. Thoughts of Johannesburg last year, when Australia failed to defend 434, started to emerge.
While de Villiers was blitzing in exciting and attractive fashion, Graeme Smith was matching him, in efficacy if not in style. Belligerent as ever, Smith reached his half-century off only 41 balls. By the 20th over, the run-scoring pattern was still loaded in South Africa's favour, with 154 on the board and nothing in the wickets column.
As is so often the case in situations like this, when a batsman is on fire, it took a run out to force the breakthrough. de Villiers flicked Andrew Symonds to long leg, wide of Shane Watson, who sprinted around, half slid and fielded. Recovering quickly, Watson fired the throw in at the striker's end, where de Villiers was diving desperately to regain his crease, and the direct hit left him well stranded. de Villiers' electrifying 92 had come off only 70 balls, and included 14 fours and two sixes.
If the de Villiers dismissal was unusual and somewhat uncalled for, it was again a non-standard sequence that did for Smith. Having reached 72, Smith was cramping up so badly that he had to receive on-field treatment from Shane Jabbar, the physio. But even then he could not go on, leaving Jacques Kallis and Herschelle Gibbs in charge of proceedings.
Kallis, as ever, batted as though in a bubble, impervious to what was happening around him and the ever-increasing demands of the mounting required run rate. Gibbs, fresh from pasting Daan van Bunge for six sixes in an over, got to 17 at almost a run-a-ball, but was deceived by a beautiful piece of bowling. Gibbs was drawn forward by a loopy wrong 'un from Brad Hogg, and as he shaped to drive, the ball spun past the bat and thudded into Gilchrist's gloves, and the stumping was effected.
Mark Boucher biffed a few, and by the time he was cleaned up by a Tait yorker, in the 39th over, the game was slipping away from South Africa. Kemp was similarly nailed, albeit lbw, by Tait for only 1, and this brought Smith back out. However, the pressure to score quickly got to Smith (74), and an attempted slog sweep speared off the top edge to Gilchrist.
The game was well and truly buried soon after when Kallis gave Hogg the charge, only for the bowler to adjust his length. The batsman could not do the same with his stroke and the ball went straight down long-on's throat. Kallis had made 48 off 59 balls in an innings where South Africa needed to score at 7.56 overall. From then on it was only a matter of tying up the loose ends, and Australia did that, bowling South Africa out for 294.
He muscled the bowling around the park for 101 off just 68 balls, with 14 fours and four sixes, to record the tournament's quickest hundred. Hayden reached three figures off only 66 deliveries, beating the mark of 67 set by John Davison of Canada against West Indies in 2003. His forceful strokes back down the pitch were enough for the bowlers to adjust their line and length, but when the ball was short or a bit wide it was merrily biffed through point.
Throughout the innings it rained fours and sixes and the South Africa attack became a tad predictable. Gilchrist and Hayden gave way to Ricky Ponting and Michael Clarke, and a second pair of Australians dismantled the bowling.
The third-wicket partnership, which came in good time, was worth 161, and by the time it was broken Ponting had helped himself to 91. Clarke would fall 19 runs later for an energetic 92, which included four sixes. South Africa were unable to match the hitting for the full fifty overs and Australia succeeded in the battle of the heavyweights.
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