More last ball heartbreak for New Zealand as Klusener does it again
It was not, Stephen Fleming conceded, quite as heartbreaking as losing a series off the last ball of a match, but it still wasn't that great a way to go down. Lance Klusener has made something of a habit of wrenching games away from New Zealand and he did it again on Saturday, crashing Shayne O'Connor through midwicket for four to give South Africa victory by three wickets in the sixth and final Standard Bank one-day international at Newlands.
On Wednesday Klusener hammered 41 off 21 balls to beat New Zealand at Kingsmead. On Saturday he was positively sluggish by contrast, taking 41 balls for his 59. But then again, his timing could not have been more perfect as New Zealand were again left to curse the sight of him.
Fleming said afterwards that plans had been mooted to contain Klusener in such circumstances, but, he acknowledged, they simply hadn't worked. And New Zealand, he added, weren't the only team still to come up with a foolproof method of stifling the left-hander.
The victory gave South Africa a 5-0 victory in the series, but, as South Africa's Shaun Pollock conceded, the gap between the two sides wasn't quite that wide, particularly in the last three matches. As Fleming noted: "You could point out in most games the moments when one player has taken the game away from us and that was the difference at the end of the day."
At Newlands New Zealand probably produced their best cricket of the series, built around a 150-run partnership between Chris Cairns and Roger Twose. Cairns hit the ball every bit as well, if not better, than Klusener for his 84 off 72 balls and Twose finally nailed down the one-day century that had eluded him in 74 previous matches.
Cairns' straight hitting was awesome in its timing and on most days it was an innings good enough to have won a match. Twose's century, too, was well crafted and welcomed by its fashioner, but as he noted ruefully: "It just doesn't mean as much if you don't win the game."
The pair lifted New Zealand out of a mire at 39 for three, but after both had gone the tourists did not kick on well enough, particularly in the last five overs as they added only 19 and lost four wickets.
Still, 256 for nine looked a decent enough score and seemed even better when Shayne O'Connor ripped out the first three South African wickets for just 30, the mini-collapse starting when Daryll Cullinan again failed clearly out of position as an opener.
When Gary Kirsten was deceived and caught and bowled by Chris Harris at 65, South Africa were wobbling badly, but Jonty Rhodes and Mark Boucher put the innings back together again with a partnership of 106 for the fifth wicket.
Even so, New Zealand still had a grip on the match with South Africa needing 71 off the last 10 overs and, more pertinently, 49 off the last five.
That, however, was the signal for Klusener to bring the big gun out of his holster. He needed someone to stay with him, however, and the support came from Shafiek Abrahams playing in his first ODI.
Abrahams made only 16, but he passed the strike back to Klusener at every opportunity and with the short straight boundaries at Newlands beckoning, Klusener went over them four times. It was studied hitting, but all of it still left South Africa needing seven off the last two balls. No problem. He hit the first two fours of his innings and South Africa were home and dry, if a little sweaty.
The tour now turns itself towards the three-Test series, with South Africa able to take a few days off to celebrate while New Zealand bid farewell to their one-day specialists and welcome the Test match reinforcements.
Fleming says that it will be easier now for the tourists to make the switch from the one-day game to the serious stuff, given that they will all welcome a change of pace. They have two warmup matches before the first Test in Bloemfontein. How well Fleming can regroup his warriors remains to be seen.