Dippenaar spares South Africa the blushes
As expected, South Africa won the opening ODI at Bloemfontein comfortably enough, by five wickets with nearly six overs to spare. However, their performance was far from convincing and they had to overcome a wobble early on in their innings. In the field they started off well but the intensity levels seemed to lessen as the innings progressed, and when they batted, too many of their top order opted for flamboyance when a more circumspect approach was called for. It was left to Boeta Dippenaar, who put on 121 for the fourth wicket with Jean-Paul Duminy, to spare them the blushes.
Zimbabwe will be relieved that they did not embarrass themselves with either bat or ball. Vusi Sibanda produced a gritty half century at the top of the order while Hamilton Mazakadza and Chamu Chibhabha chipped in with useful contributions. Their opening bowlers - Ed Rainsford and Tawanda Mupariwa - prised out three top-order wickets to worry South Africa before they recovered and took the game away from them.
Although they restricted Zimbabwe to a modest 201, South Africa's bowling was below-par. Mark Boucher, at least, was not too chuffed as evidenced by his cry of anguish - "C'mon fellas, you need to hit the deck more, you are being too friendly". Considering that South Africa have not played a one-day game since making a then-world record total of 438 for 9 in March, maybe, this rustiness was only to be expected.
After Zimbabwe opted to bat first, Makhaya Ntini and Shaun Pollock made life tough. Ntini, in particular, troubled the Zimbabweans with his pace and lift off the pitch. He hit the ribs of Sibanda with a lifter, bruised his hands with a snorter, and often left Terry Duffin, who made 3, unsure where his off stump was.
However, once the opening pair were rested, the intensity levels dropped and Sibanda, in particular, exacted a toll. Where only 30 runs came in the first 11 overs, the next 16 overs bled 80 runs before Jacques Kallis, leading South Africa for the first time in an ODI, brought himself on in an effort to stem the flow. He would have been disappointed with two bowlers - Charl Langeveldt and Robin Peterson. While Langeveldt erred on length, bowling too full, Peterson was guilty of both line and length. Kallis, filling in for the injured Graeme Smith, was his typical self, running in hard and extracting bounce and movement. Nel hit the right lengths but, maybe, could have hit the deck more forcefully.
Sibanda threw it away soon after reaching his fifty when he tried to pull a delivery from outside the off stump and only lobbed up an easy catch to mid-off. Chibhabha played the second fiddle role to Sibanda perfectly, settling in at first before starting to rotate the strike. He was involved in a valuable 61-run partnership with Mazakadza, but both, however, fell tamely to expose the lower middle-order.
When South Africa began their run-chase they couldn't wait to impose themselves on proceedings. Desperate wafts of the bat, ungainly hoicks across the line, greedy attempts to chase down wide deliveries dominated the early part of the run chase before Dippenaar and Duminy got together.
The debutant Loots Bosman, who had smashed a 14-ball 27 for the Eagles against the visitors in the warm-up game, was the first to go, falling to an ugly heave across the line. But if that can be attributed to inexperience, the seasoned pros who followed were also hell bent on indulging in hara-kiri. Herschelle Gibbs reached out for a wide one while Kallis, who looked determined to gift his wicket away, fell trying to slash once too often.
Dippenaar stood tall amidst the ruins and soon found an able ally in Duminy, making his comeback after a dismal show against Sri Lanka's spinners in five ODIs in 2004. He repeatedly peppered the cover fence - three fours - with his drives but the shot of the innings was an exquisite on-the-up punch-drive of the back foot against Mupariwa. He fell trying to finish the game off in a hurry but by then the chase was nearly over.
Terry Duffin c Kallis b Ntini 3 (21 for 1)
Pushed hard at a length delivery outside off, pouched at second slip
V Sibanda c Pollock b Nel 51 ( 76 for 2)
Top edged a pull to mid-off
H Masakadza c Duminy b Kallis 32 (137 for 3)
Swatted one straight to cover
CJ Chibhabha c Peterson b Kallis 38 (140 for 4)
Flicked straight to short midwicket
S Matsikenyeri b Langeveldt 11 (158 for 5)
Tried to hit across the line but was deceived by the slower ball
BRM Taylor c Gibbs b Nel 9 (158 for 6)
Square-drove straight to point
Prosper Utseya c Boucher b Langeveldt (179 for 7)
Caught behind trying to run it down to third man
LL Bosman b Rainsford 5 (13 for 1)
Tried to hit across the line
HH Gibbs c Chibhabha b Mupariwa 2 (23 for 2)
Patted a wide delivery straight to cover
Jacques Kallis c Taylor b Ireland 4 (33 for 3)
Under edged a square cut
JP Duminy st Taylor b Matsikenyeri 60 (154 for 4)
Ran down the track but was beaten in the flight and by the turn
MV Boucher b Rainsford 8 (175 for 5)
Missed a heave across the line
Sriram Veera is editorial assistant of Cricinfo