'Chip off the old block' McKenzie takes it away from NZ

Peter Robinson

December 2, 2000

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Cellphone etiquette in the South African dressing room ensured that Kevin McKenzie could not phone son Neil to congratulate him immediately after his 120 against New Zealand at St George's Park on Saturday.

In any case, both father and son would probably have waited for the end of the Springbok match against England at Twickenham before getting on the line to each other. McKenzie the elder played seven unofficial "Tests" for South Africa during the dark days of isolation during the 1980s.

He was a compulsive hooker and a popular cricketer, well liked by his peers and there's more than just a chip off the old block about McKenzie the younger who sparked a generally dour Test match to life on Saturday.

McKenzie's innings enabled South Africa to end the third day 63 ahead at 361 for eight. It also earned him praise from New Zealand captain Stephen Fleming.

"The turning point was when McKenzie took the game to us," said Fleming. "He played some delightful shots, especially driving, and just grabbed the initiative at the stage when, if we could have grabbed another one, we could have had a first innings lead."

Coming from one of the modern game's great stylists, that's a handsome compliment. The significance, though, as Fleming pointed out, was that McKenzie's took the game away from New Zealand.

The tourists had a good morning. Daryll Cullinan looked about to set the match on fire when he clubbed Chris Martin out of the attack when the New Zealander tried to bounce him out and then hoisted Brooke Walker almost into the press box. But on 33 Cullinan lifted his head to be bowled as he swiped again at Walker and, if nothing else, ensured that the stories about his weakness will resurface.

The new ball claimed Shaun Pollock and Mark Boucher just before lunch and Lance Klusener after the interval, and at 209 for seven a South African lead looked a long way off. But McKenzie shifted up a gear to add 136 for the eighth wicket to take South Africa ahead.

He had three Tests as an anxious opener in mid-year, but looks an entirely different player down in the middle order.

"I don't think it's any secret," said McKenzie. "I definitely like it down the order. If they ask me to go up again, I'll go up again, but I like it at five and when you're scoring runs, you've got not hassles."

Like his Dad, McKenzie is extremely powerful through the leg side, but as Fleming noted, he also drove exquisitely. "I'm just standing still and watching the ball," he said. "It sounds simple, but that's what I'm doing."

The game, then, has shifted back towards South Africa. New Zealand still have to get rid of the last two South African wickets, including Boje who had 51 last night, before setting a target.

It's a pitch, as McKenzie noted, on which survival is relatively straightforward, but scoring runs a little more difficult. It's also a surface on which the best chance of breaking through is with the new ball. If not, said McKenzie, "you're going to be struggling".

New Zealand also have time to think about now, even if the last two wickets go quickly on Sunday morning. Fleming suggested it might be better for New Zealand to be bowled out in their second innings, rather than fret about how long they might need to knock over South Africa.

On balance, a draw is the most likely outcome, but if the sun continues to shine and the cracks widen, who knows, batting last will not be easy.

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