Fleming leads New Zealand to convincing victory
The trend of low scores and poor pitches continued at the Champions Trophy, as New Zealand crushed South Africa by 87 runs at the Brabourne Stadium in Mumbai. In conditions where batting was an onerous task, Stephen Fleming played an outstanding knock for the second time in a major one-day competition against South Africa. In the World Cup, he had creamed 134 effortless runs; here, his 89 was the difference between the two sides, enabling New Zealand to mount 195. His opposite number for South Africa, Graeme Smith, was the second-highest score with 42 - but none of the other batsmen had much of a clue.
The pitch was a different one to what had been used a couple of days back when West Indies were mauled by Sri Lanka, but the result wasn't much different. Early on it offered more pace and bounce than the track on which West Indies got rolled over, but as the day wore on strokeplay became increasingly tougher, especially against the older ball. By the time South Africa were midway into their innings, there was a puff of dust every time the ball landed on the turf, and the abrasive nature of the pitch made the ball grip the surface - it was all far too much for the South African batsmen, and for most of the New Zealanders as well.
The one batsman who conquered these tough conditions was Fleming. At the start, when strokeplay was relatively easier, he executed some crisp strokes, flicking wide off mid-on with characteristic flair and cutting and driving with panache on the off side. He played and missed more than once early on, but when wickets fell regularly at the other end, he cut out the risks and ensured that he stayed through most of the innings.
The stand-out feature, though, was his crisp timing in a match where everyone else struggled. Even as wickets fell around him, Fleming calmly worked the ball around for ones and twos, seemingly unconcerned by the lack of support, and then opened out again towards the end, sweeping the spinners and hoicking Makhaya Ntini when he returned for a second spell. In fact, Ntini's extra pace made him the easiest bowler to get away, as he leaked almost six an over.
Fleming's innings meant that New Zealand managed a decent total - in the circumstances - despite the absence of a significant partnership: there were five stands of 20 or more, but none topped 47 as batsman after batsman deserted Fleming despite getting starts. The South African bowlers did a fine job, but the extravagant turn Robin Peterson and Smith managed - more than once Smith managed to rip it past Fleming's outside edge - should have suggested to both the captains that batting in the evening would be even more fraught with danger.
And so it turned out, as South Africa struggled right from the start of their run-chase. The wreckers, however, were the medium pacers, as Mills and Oram used the conditions to perfection. Mills did the early damage, trapping Boeta Dippenaar in front, and nailing Herschelle Gibbs with a superb indipper. Jacques Kallis, the birthday-boy who had celebrated with three wickets in the afternoon, walked out, and on a pitch getting increasingly treacherous, he was the one batsman who had the technique to cope. Mills, however, ended his resistance too, effecting a superb one-handed return catch as Kallis went on the drive too early.
Smith continued to battle hard, though, just as his opposite number had done for New Zealand. While Fleming managed 89, Smith couldn't even make half as much, as Oram took over from where Mills had left off. Mark Boucher gifted his wicket away to a wide one, Smith himself miscued a pull, while Shaun Pollock was left wide-eyed as an Oram special stopped on him, making him scoop a catch to cover.
With six wickets in the bag, Fleming finally unleashed his twin-spin attack to wrap it up. Daniel Vettori was supposed to be the dangerman, but on a track offering so much turn to any slow bowler who could land the ball, the ability to bowl it flat and hasten it after pitching was a more deadly proposition. Vettori, flighting it generously, managed only one wicket in seven overs as Jeetan Patel ripped through the tail with his flat offbreaks. Andre Nel, his face usually a rich concoction of expressions, was left gaping after a huge turner got through his defences, and thereafter the end was only a moment away.
At the post-match presentation, Smith offered his congratulations to Sri Lanka before realising he had got the opposition wrong - the way the ball turned, though, he could be forgiven for imagining they were up against Muttiah Muralitharan, not Jeetan Patel.
Lou Vincent b Pollock 17 (27 for 1)
Played across the line, and ball sneaked in between bat and pad
Nathan Astle b Hall 14 (74 for 2)
Came down the pitch and yorked himself
Hamish Marshall b Nel 1 (76 for 3)
Tried to squirt one on the off side, and played on
Peter Fulton c Boucher b Kallis 2 (86 for 4)
Got a feather off a hook shot
Jacob Oram c Dippenaar b Peterson 7 (99 for 5)
Inside edge on to pad, and ballooned to short leg
Brendon McCullum c & b Peterson 21 (135 for 6)
Scooped a drive back to the bowler
Daniel Vettori c Boucher b Smith 9 (156 for 7)
Chased a wide one and got a nick
James Franklin b Kallis 9 (180 for 8)
Tried to pull but the ball found the stumps off his elbow
Stephen Fleming c Pollock b Kallis 89 (192 for 9)
Flicked to fine leg
Jeetan Patel run out (Pollock) 2 (195 all out)
Direct hit from short third man
Boeta Dippenaar lbw b Mills 0 (1 for 1)
Shuffled across and trapped plumb in front
Herschelle Gibbs b Mills 0 (3 for 2)
Nipped back and found the gap between bat and pad
Jacques Kallis c & b Mills 8 (25 for 3)
Superb one-handed catch on the follow-through after Kallis drove too early
Mark Boucher c McCullum b Oram 8 (50 for 4)
Slashed at a short and wide one and got a feather
Graeme Smith c Vettori b Oram 42 (69 for 5)
Tried to pull one not short enough, and spooned it to mid-off
Shaun Pollock c Patel b Oram 1 (71 for 6)
Played too early at one that stopped after pitching; simple catch to cover
Andrew Hall c Vincent b Patel 13 (99 for 7)
Flicked to short midwicket
Robin Peterson c Fleming b Vettori 0 (100 for 8)
Popped a catch to short leg
Andre Nel b Patel 0 (105 for 9)
Beaten comprehensively by a fast offbreak
Makhaya Ntini b Patel 1 (107 all out)
Done in by another quick offbreak
S Rajesh is stats editor of Cricinfo