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September 24, 2009
South Africa, led by Roelof van der Merwe and Wayne Parnell with the ball and AB de Villiers with the bat, recovered from their opening-game loss to beat New Zealand in Centurion. New Zealand struggled to put up runs after being put in under slightly overcast conditions, with van der Merwe starring with ten cunning overs while Parnell claimed five wickets.
Ross Taylor played a responsible innings that gave New Zealand stability after they were reduced to 92 for 3, but losing their last seven wickets for 51 was a crime. With this win, impossible without de Villiers' cool half-century, Group B is now wide open with England yet to play a match.
The pitch was the same one used a couple of days ago when South Africa were mauled by Sri Lanka, but the result was very different. Early on it offered more pace and bounce than the track on which Tillakaratne Dilshan blazed away, but as the afternoon wore on stroke play became increasingly tougher, especially against the older ball. By the time New Zealand were midway into their innings, after Parnell took two early wickets, the spinners found appreciable bounce and the abrasive nature of the pitch made the ball grip the surface.
van der Merwe and Johan Botha bowled with control and the effort was complemented by the attacking fields Graeme Smith set, which played a major role in suffocating the batsmen. Runs came at a trickle with New Zealand managing just 72 between the 15th and 35th overs. During that span, the spinners conceded just three boundaries.
Taylor had a few close shaves against van der Merwe but overcame his nerves to play a substantial role. He was pleasing when cracking the ball in the arc between point and gully but more than those odd field perforations his contribution was valuable for the manner in which he shored up the pressure of seeing New Zealand through difficulty. Grant Elliott had his moments of indecision when balls from van der Merwe just about missed the edge of the bat, yet managed to pierce the wall of fielders with some excellent shots through cover.
His dismissal for 39, bowled by a peach from van der Merwe, snapped a 71-run stand and allowed South Africa back spectacularly. The last five fell for 11 runs in 18 balls, with Parnell nipping out three in the batting Powerplay, and that decided the match. Taylor had carried the innings but the lack of sizeable partnerships hurt them: there were four stands of 30 or more, but none topped 71 as South Africa plugged away. The bowlers did a fine job, and the sharp turn the spinners achieved suggested that batting in the evening would be even more difficult.
This is where de Villiers made the difference. Smith failed to get going, chipping Daryl Tuffey to mid-on, after which Jacques Kallis briefly put New Zealand on the back foot. Kallis biffed a 39-ball 36, batting as if the world was his stage, but his dismissal left de Villiers to shepherd the chase.
Warning of de Villiers' intentions came early with two sumptuous drives down the ground off Daryl Tuffey. He didn't lag thereafter, embellishing his presence with lovely clips off the pads and excellent judgment of singles and doubles. Daniel Vettori got sharp bite and used his arm ball well, and it was with one that gently turned that he sent Hashim Amla on his way for 38 from 65 deliveries. Kyle Mills returned and was the beneficiary of a wicket as an attempted cut from JP Duminy went off the bottom edge and Brendon McCullum took a sharp catch.
de Villiers refused to panic. He collected the singles, punished the loose balls, and didn't buckle under the pressure exerted by a tight spell from Vettori. Singles were vital to South Africa's progress yet sporadically, to give the fans something to purr about, de Villiers found the boundary. He brought up his 19th ODI fifty off 54 balls and Mark Boucher seemed set to seal the win with him until he lost his concentration in the 36th over. South Africa, though, already had the game wrapped up.
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