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September 16, 2007
South Africa have become the first side to secure three consecutive victories in the World Twenty20 and there is now an indisputable momentum to their campaign. Admittedly, they haven't yet had to face their demons Australia, or the effervescent strokeplay of the Sri Lankans, but tonight they had to fight back from a tough position against England and in the end came away with a relatively comfortable 19-run win. It draws a line under a sporting weekend of vastly contrasting fortunes for the two countries.
However, the cricket team didn't have it as easy as the rugby players did at the Stade de France on Friday, and they had Albie Morkel to thank for reaching a defendable total. Morkel had demonstrated his batting prowess against Bangladesh, making 41 off 29 balls after being promoted to No. 3. This time he was back in the middle order and it's a role he seems well suited to.
His 43 from 20 balls turned a likely total of 125-135 into a more imposing 154 for 8, and with the appreciable seam movement on offer it was always going to be a testing chase for England. The crucial moment came when he miscued Chris Schofield over midwicket on 14. Paul Collingwood rushed back for the catch, but it would have been an easier effort for Owais Shah coming in from long-on. In the end the ball landed in no-man's land between them.
Morkel then dispatched Schofield's last three balls for sixes of varying vastness and his striking was reminiscent of Lance Klusener in his pomp. Like Klusener he is a left-hander and plays with an uncompromising swing of the bat. Shortly before the Twenty20 he hit 97 while batting at No.3 against Zimbabwe and he has a large role to play in South Africa's limited-overs sides. In the end, those 18 runs - plus the single he salvaged during his reprieve - were the difference between the teams.
But Morkel, whose brother Morne took the match award against Bangladesh on Saturday, also played his part with the ball as he removed Matt Prior and the dangerous Owais Shah, who was keeping England in with an outside chance. "This is definitely my best game in the green and gold," he said afterwards.
After the non-contest between Australia and Bangladesh, the incidents thrown up by this clash were appreciable. It was another match where the ball held sway on a surface with extra bounce and the assistance of the floodlit evening.
Bowling tactics have been fascinating to watch as this tournament has evolved. In theory, bowlers are on a hiding to nothing in this format, and yet with a bit of skill and variation they too can bask in the limelight. Brett Lee's pace earlier in the day took quick bowling back to its basics while Nathan Bracken is developing a fine art with his off-cutters. Away from Cape Town, Lasith Malinga has been held back for the latter part of the innings as a specialist death bowler with his low, slinging yorkers.
England added another box of tricks to the list as Collingwood brought a new meaning to rotating the bowlers. Only three times did anyone bowl a spell of two consecutive overs as everyone was kept on their toes. There was some sound thinking behind the move and for a while England's attack were the "one-over wonders". It certainly didn't let the batsmen settle and, with South Africa on 94 for 6, the move was working a treat until Morkel's intervention.
Graeme Smith went completely the other way with his attack, bowling Shaun Pollock for his full four overs off the reel for the first time in the tournament. It was traditional Pollock, all line and length, and with the ball zipping around there was no need to try anything new. His first over was a maiden, a rare species in the past week. There was even the sight of a slip catch, when Collingwood edged to Justin Kemp, almost as scarce a sight as the less-spotted maiden.
Both these teams now leave Cape Town for Durban, where conditions are likely to be equally helpful for the quick bowlers. South Africa have been criticised for being too one-dimensional, but it is serving them well at the moment. As for England, their bowling is the only dimension which is firing at all.
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