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February 20, 2012
The secret behind Richard Levi's scintillating century, according to Johan Botha, was his ability to keep finding the other side of the boundary even when the Powerplay was over. Levi, with his 117 not out off 51 balls, became South Africa's only centurion in international Twenty20 cricket, the scorer of the fastest hundred in the format and the joint-highest individual score, equalling a record set by Chris Gayle.
Botha said some of the South Africa camp were not all that surprised by Levi's effort. "He has played with a few of the Cobras guys in our team and they kept saying that he plays that way," Botha said. "But, I thought, surely he can't keep it hitting it like that."
But, Levi could. He peppered the leg-side with sixes irrespective of who was bowling and which wickets fell around him. Hashim Amla holed out and Wayne Parnell was stumped during the early stages of Levi's innings but their departure did not seem to have any effect on his power-hitting. Neither did the lifting of the fielding restrictions, which impressed Botha.
"The good thing is - and I think that's the way the game is going - to keep hitting boundaries after six overs and he did that to keep the bowlers under pressure," Botha said. "A lot of guys are good in the first six overs when its field restrictions and then from overs seven to 11, they take the foot off the gas a little bit. That's where he was outstanding."
Botha said New Zealand had no way of stopping Levi because sometimes, especially in the shortest format of the game, when momentum is with a player, it cannot be taken away. "When a guy is playing that way, you've got to hope he misses one at some stage and if he doesn't, that's the way it goes," Botha said. "It was just one of those nights where one player can do these things. We've seen it with Gayle and we've seen it with Brendon McCullum, where you just can't stop a guy."
Levi also rose above a verbal shower from Tim Southee who though the short ball would rattle the South Africa opener. Southee hit Levi on the helmet in the first match and accounted for his dismissal but the same ploy did not work in Wellington. Levi was prepared for Southee this time around, and had a few things to say back to the New Zealand bowler, most of them with the bat.
"Richard had a few guys quiet last night," Botha said, admitting that South Africa had braced themselves for mind-games and wordy confrontations. "We expected the players to come out hard and really be in our faces, and that's fair enough. I think the guys know it might happen and they've just got to deal with it and focus on the game. Gary [Kirsten] spoke to us about it and said 'You've just got to get on with it, you can't let it affect you'. We expect more of the same in the next few games."
New Zealand have often triumphed over South Africa in mind games with their most recent victory coming at the World Cup quarterfinal in Dhaka in March last year. That win knocked an impressive-looking South Africa out of the tournament and although they claim to have recovered from the shock, they would still not pass up a chance to beat their old foes in response.
The third Twenty20 in Auckland may present a situation that has some similarity to a knockout match. With the series currently at 1-1, it is effectively a final and will give both sides the opportunity to show their ability to perform under pressure. "It's good to play in tight games," Botha said. "It's nice to be at one-all and I'm sure there'll be a lot of expectation. The big games like this really matter."
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondentFeeds: Firdose Moonda
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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