Ntini's five-for destroys Pakistan
Makhaya Ntini unleashed an opening spell like few others seen in one-day history, taking five wickets for just eight runs, to book South Africa's place in the semi-finals of the Champions Trophy. On a bouncy pitch with predominant seam movement, South Africa ran away to a thumping 124-run win, eliminated Pakistan from the competition, and catapulted themselves to the top of their group.
In a game when the ball passed the bat's outside edge more often than it hit the middle, a couple of vital fifties allowed South Africa to fight back gallantly. Pakistan's new-ball pairing inflicted serious damage early on, reducing South Africa to 42 for 5, but the efficient 131-run stand between Mark Boucher and Justin Kemp propped them up to a reasonable 213.
Ntini was simply unstoppable. Aided by a pitch that offered zip, and backed by close-in catchers who plucked off beauties, he was in demolition mode. Like Umar Gul had done earlier in the day, he started with a bang, snapping up a wicket with his second ball, but unlike Gul he sustained the wicket-taking intensity. Victim No.1 was Mohammad Hafeez, receiving a good length ball that took off so appreciably that Greame Smith pouched the catch head high, as it was still rising.
No.2 was devoured in the second ball of the next over. In fact, as those watching Imran Farthat of late would know, the batsman walked straight into the shark's mouth. Up against a wide ball that bounced and seamed away, Farhat slashed as if there was no tomorrow, offering a straightforward chance to third man. To say it was reckless would be an understatement. Ntini might have got Mohammad Yousuf as well, the only problem being he didn't get to bowl a ball at him. Shaun Pollock cashed in instead with an incutter, one that would have got him lbw anyway had it not deflected onto the stumps.
No.3 was Younis Khan, just unable to handle the ferocity of yet another short ball and top-edging a skier to short midwicket. No.4 was Shoaib Malik, who didn't edge behind the wicket but actually played a shot off the face of the bat. Ntini dug it in short, angling it down leg only for Malik to cutely flick. In normal circumstances it might have run away to the fine-leg fence for four but Boucher, intercepted it with a supreme athletic gesture, diving full length and pulling off a sensational one-handed catch. How he got to it in the first place will remain a mystery; how he held on will never be explained. Whatever came next was bound to be mundane. No.5 was Kamran Akmal, who possibly got out expecting a short one but not getting it. Five overs, two maidens, eight runs, five wickets. Done in flash. Game, set, match.
South Africa had their share of problems as well; in fact large doses of it. The first half of the game was composed of two distinct halves. Pakistan's new-ball pairing of Gul and Rao Iftikhar Anjum triggered a spectacular start, leaving South Africa's batsmen - hopping and clueless - reeling at 42 for 5. Gul had it figured from the first over, keeping it straight and getting rid of the dangerous duo of Graeme Smith and Herschelle Gibbs. Rao at the other end was equally lethal, and more miserly. He managed 18 dots before conceding his first run and had figures of 4-3-1-0 before a four was struck off him.
The fielders, who've often let Pakistan down recently, managed a wonderful back-up job. Malik's sharp low catch at first slip, to get rid of Gibbs, was far more difficult than he made it appear while Akmal's one-handed lunge to catch Boetta Dippenaar, when he clung on even though the ball had passed him, was a superb effort.
The innings gradually changed complexion when Pakistan's second-choice bowlers came on. With the pitch easing out and Pakistan setting attacking fields, all it required was for Kemp and Boucher to pierce the infield consistently. The loose offerings weren't spared - Abdul Razzaq trying to dig it in short when all that the pitch was asking for was a fullish length was inexplicable - and both showed that spending time in the middle would bring rewards. Boucher's knack of regularly enacting rescuing missions came in handy while Kemp rediscovered the crisp timing that had deserted him for a while.
Both utilised the sweep shot effectively and their ability to scamper between the wickets offset Pakistan a bit. What they couldn't achieve, though, was the kick right at the end of the innings but Ntini did enough of that with the ball in hand.
Graeme Smith lbw b Gul 0 (0 for 1)
Rapped on the pads while trying to turn to leg
Herschelle Gibbs c Malik b Gul 0 (1 for 2)
Pokes at a back-of-a-length ball; superb low catch at first slip
Boeta Dippenaar c Akmal b Rao 13 (27 for 3)
Tentatively pushed at a short one; edge taken brilliantly by the keeper
Jacques Kallis c Akmal b Rao 17 (36 for 4)
Edged one outside off trying to drive
AB de Villiers c Akmal b Arafat 10 (42 for 5)
Snicked a peach of an outswinger to the keeper
Mark Boucher c Hafeez b Razzaq 69 (173 for 6)
Tries to pull but edges to point
Shaun Pollock c Rao b Hafeez 2 (182 for 7)
Holed out to long-off
Justin Kemp c Malik b Gul 64 (199 for 8)
Holed out to long-on
Mohammad Hafeez c Smith b Ntini 3 (5 for 1)
Good legth ball that took off; edged to first slip
Imran Farhat c Pollock b Ntini 4 (9 for 3)
Slashed at a wide one and skies top-edge to third man
Mohammad Yousuf b Pollock 5 (17 for 3)
Misses a beauty of an incutter; ball deflects from pad onto stumps
Younis Khan c Langeveldt b Ntini 7 (21 for 4)
Top-edged a pull to short midwicket
Shoaib Malik c Boucher b Ntini 0 (21 for 5)
Glided down leg; incredible one-handed catch behind the stumps
Kamran Akmal lbw b Ntini 1 (27 for 6)
Couldn't keep out an incutter
Shahid Afridi lbw b Pollock 14 (42 for 7)
Missed while trying to slog across the line
Abdul Razzaq b Langeveldt 5 (47 for 8)
Castled by an incutter that kept slightly low
Umar Gul c Boucher b Langeveldt 7 (77 for 9)
To-edged a pull
Yasir Arafat c Ntini b Langaveldt 27 (89 all out)
Edged a skier to third man
Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is staff writer of Cricinfo