South Africa complete comfortable victory to take series lead over New Zealand
Stephen Fleming had been looking forward to winning in Benoni on Sunday, he said, "to give the wicket some". Grumbling about the pitch after losing, he suggested, always sounded a bit like sour grapes. But he went on and had a moan anyway.
The New Zealand captain had good cause for complaint anyway in spite of losing the second Standard Bank one-day international at Willowmoore Park in Benoni on Sunday by six wickets to South Africa and because of the defeat.
By any reasonable standards, it was not a pitch suitable for international cricket. "It looked like a wicket that was going to deteriorate," said Fleming. "We didn't think it was going to deteriorate after the second ball."
Winning captain Shaun Pollock was slightly less damning. "I don't think it played as bad as it might have looked," he offered, and then immediately seemed to contradict himself. "The odd ball kept a bit low and sort of held back and came through a bit slow," noted Pollock, before adding that Benoni could be a good ODI venue "once they get a wicket that's more conducive to strokeplay."
Allowing for the vagaries of the pitch, then, it has to be said that the South Africans picked the better-suited team for the conditions and then exploited them more capably than New Zealand.
The tourists sprung something of a surprise by resting Geoff Allott and leaving out Shayne O'Connor and choosing spinners Paul Wiseman and Brooke Walker instead. The South Africans had a five-man seam-up attack at Pollock's disposal and they all bowled straight, just short of a length and allowed the pitch to do the work.
New Zealand never really got going in making 194 for eight. Nathan Astle laboured away for nearly 40 overs for his 58, but no one managed to stay with him as wickets fell at regular intervals. The first six wickets to fall all went either bowled or leg before and with Roger Telemachus, back in the side after a one-game suspension, near impossible to get away (10-5-16-1), the New Zealand innings failed to gather momentum at any stage.
Still, they had them. South Africa had to get them and the home team needed a decent start. They got it from their second-wicket pair, Gary Kirsten and Nicky Boje. Kirsten has a wealth of experience and his 57 was his 34th one-day fifty, but it is Boje who is in the best form of his life.
On Friday he hammered out an unbeaten 105 at better than a run-a-ball, and on Sunday he simply picked up where he left off in Friday's washout.
As in Potchefstroom, Boje was a little scratchy to start with, but he's finding the gaps unerringly at the moment and he rode his luck until he came to terms with the wicket.
"I'm probably a bit like a cat with nine lives at the moment," he grinned afterwards.
Together Kirsten and Boje put on 111 for the second wicket and although neither was able to see it through, they had batted New Zealand out of the match. Boje went a little tamely in the end, chipping Chris Harris to mid on for 64, and although Daryll Cullinan could manage no more than a 14-ball duck, Jacques Kallis and Jonty Rhodes took South Africa home at a canter.
The series moves on to SuperSport Park in Centurion on Wednesday and to a pitch that usually throws up scores of around 280 as par. Not just New Zealand will be hoping for a better pitch than Benoni.
"On the whole we were disappointed with the quality of (the pitch)," said Fleming. "All concerned were disappointed. It wasn't conducive to sports entertainment which is what one-day cricket is all about."
Most people will agree with him.