February 27, 2003

South Africa complete protracted win over Canada

South Africa began their World Cup with an upset they could ill afford as a sublime Brian Lara century sent the Proteas scurrying to defeat. Then Stephen Fleming batted like no one knew possible and the hosts were dealt a double blow. Perhaps the twin losses were exactly what the home side needed. All that talk about them knowing the conditions best and being favourites went out the window. They then buckled down, played some strong cricket and simply concentrated on winning. On Thursday Canada were at the receiving end.

South Africa laboured their way to 254 and saw Canada plod their way to 136/5 in 50 overs. The hosts won easily by 118 runs.

Having earlier pulled off a massive upset when they beat Bangladesh by 60 runs, Canada would have hoped to acquit themselves well in this game too. Austin Codrington, now the most famous plumber in cricket circles had a five-for to his name, John Davison smashed his way into the record books with a 67-ball century against West Indies. All this form however, proved to mean little as the Canadians came against a disciplined South African side.

Giving their young guns a chance to prove their mettle, the South Africans eyed four easy points. The loss of the toss did nothing to deter the Proteas who were asked to bat at the Buffalo Park in East London.

Herschelle Gibbs, colourful, flashy and yet not quite the man to take full toll of a mediocre bowling attack fell to a loose shot caught behind by Ashish Bagai for just eight. Debutant mediumpacer Ashish Patel had his first international wicket. More loose batting followed - coach Eric Simons would not have been pleased - as Gary Kirsten departed for a duck and Jacques Kallis made just one. At 23/3 Boeta Dippenaar and Graeme Smith decided that this simply would not do.

The left-handed opener initially overlooked in the South African World Cup squad, had a point or three to prove. Posting a 109-run partnership for the fourth wicket with Dippenaar, Smith knocked up 63 and took South Africa to 132 before being bowled by John Davison.

Dippenaar batted on, regardless of the wickets falling around him. Mark Boucher made 21 but he too could not make his ability count on the day.

Eventually, Dippenaar fell on a well made 80, the top score on the day, caught by Barry Seebaran off the bowling of vice-captain Nicholas de Groot. Dippenaar's 118-ball stay at the crease included seven boundaries.

The bits and pieces all-rounders then kicked in as Shaun Pollock (32) and Andrew Hall (22) steered South Africa towards respectability.

In the end, the home side managed just 254/8 from their 50 overs. Debutant Ashish Patel, while not quite able to match yesterday's Ashish performance where Nehra scalped a match-winning 6/23 for India against England, returned the respectable figures of 3/41.

This World Cup has thrown up more than one instance where a strong side has not managed to score heavily against the minnows. Some claim that the gap between the Davids and Goliaths has narrowed. Others speak of wickets looking perfect for batting without quite being so. And then others still wonder what the fuss is all about as a score like 254 is a winning one against sides of Canada's calibre.

There's a bit of truth in all those points of view.

In the end, it was all purely academic as the Canadian batting line-up were shown to be far out of their depth. Davison (1) and Desmond Chumney (2) were sent back to the pavilion almost as quickly as they came out to bat and Canada were 8/2.

With their two best hitters back in the hut, there was no chance that Canada could pose a serious threat to the South African total. Soon Ian Billcliff (9) was also sent back by a peach of a delivery from the enthusiastic Monde Zondeki and Canada were 28/3 from 15.1 overs.

The hard working Ishwar Maraj teamed up with skipper Joseph Harris and the pair held up the South Africans for what seemed like an eternity. There was no attempt to chase the target, there was not even an attempt to keep the scoreboard ticking over with ones and twos. There was merely some misguided attempt to bat out the full 50 overs, almost playing for the non-existent draw.

Eventually Joe Harris' vigil ended in the 38th over when a brute of a delivery from Makhaya Ntini reared from a length and caused the batsman to fend an edge to the keeper. Harris had contributed 15 from 32 balls to the Canada total of 85 at the 38 over mark.

Maraj however, remained unbeaten on 53, one of the most tedious half centuries you can ever hope to see. Taking 155 balls to get there, Maraj never really looked to score quickly, or make a mark on the game. Add to this the fact that Maraj was dropped at least four times in the course of his innings and it certainly does not paint a pretty picture. One wonders if this is the best approach to trying to play the game at the highest level.

At any rate, it took Canada to 136/5 from 50 overs.

South Africa take away four points from this game and move to 12 points and first place in Group B on virtue of net run rate. There was little joy though for the South Africans. The win was less than convincing. The bowling lacked penetration and the batting showed little application.

And yes, one point of worry is Allan Donald. Several people have voiced their views on the veteran fast bowler, more than one suggesting that "White Lightning" was beyond it. The man who has put fear in the minds of the best batsmen over the years went wicketless in ten overs against Canada. That certainly tells a tale and in some ways is an indication of the morale of the South African team at the moment.