Records tumble in South African win
It was one of those sporting events quite Darwinian in its dimensions: one group of men coming together cataclysmically to bury another in such a manner that it could arguably stunt the latter's development, not to mention the scars that will remain for years to come. Herschelle Gibbs - who slammed six sixes in an over - led a band of jolly marauders as South Africa plundered 353 from 40 overs against Netherlands and then restricted them to only 132 for 9, winning by the embarrassing margin of 221 runs.
You would think that this sort of hitting would make for a fine spectacle - and make no mistake about it, the kind of shots that Gibbs, Jacques Kallis and Mark Boucher played would have made Barry Bonds or Mark McGwire proud - but beyond a point the punishment was not a joy to watch. It was like a heavyweight boxer pounding away at an untrained flyweight long after the bell had rung. Crowds come to one-day cricket to watch the big shots, but equally, there must be a contest, and the Australia-South Africa match at the Wanderers when 434 was chased down is one such example.
Luuk van Troost, captain of Netherlands, will need a strong dose of Dutch courage if he is to pick himself, and his team up, and arrive at the next game they play, against a little team that calls itself Australia. But one would be tempted to believe he won't take the bold decision of putting the opposition in, as he did here, if he wins the toss.
For just one brief moment - the second ball of the match - the few orange-clad supporters of the Netherlands team that were in the crowd, had reason to stand up and cheer. AB de Villiers was like the teetotaler at the bachelor party, missing out, edging Billy Stelling to the keeper. Kallis and Graeme Smith then cooled their heels, reaching just four runs at the end of the five overs.
Then began an assault that was only tempered by the fact that the game was restricted to 40-overs per side after overnight rain soaked the ground. Smith slashed at a couple of balls and easily cleared the point fielder. The bowlers then adjusted their line and kept it straight and rather full, just one of the many things they would come to regret. Smith tucked the ball away through leg for easy boundaries, and Kallis began to muscle his straight hits, showing that the boundaries at the picturesque Warner Park in Basseterre, St Kitts, were just too small for the modern logs of wood that masquerade as bats.
Smith and Kallis put up the first of three century partnerships - the first time such a thing has happened in the 2537 one-day internationals that have been played in the history of the game - but it was not the best of the lot. Even then, it was worth 114, and ended when Smith (67) attempted one across-the-line mow too many and speared a catch up to point off the top edge, setting up an entrance for Gibbs to express himself.
And he expressed himself with all the gay abandon of a mischievous child who had been handed his first can of paint and asked to have a go at the living-room wall. Daan van Bunge wrote himself into the history books, becoming the first man to concede six sixes in an over in international cricket. Gibbs's sound thrashing, in the 30th over, began innocuously enough, when he waltzed down the pitch and pinged the ball over long-on. When sixes followed off the second and third balls, you could see the impish grin spread across his face, and you just knew he had murder on his mind. A swat over midwicket was followed by a slap over long-off and when the last ball was dropped short it sailed high, wide and quite handsomely over deep midwicket.
But while those six sixes are the ones that will make all the record books and the highlights reels, they were merely par for the course in an innings when it rained sixes. In all, the ball flew over the ropes 18 times - a record for World Cup matches.
Gibbs and Kallis added 109 from a rather sedate 71 balls. Gibbs's seven sixes and four fours powered him to 72 off only 40 balls, and he was clearly having so much fun that even when he was out - attempting another big hit - there wasn't even a trace of disappointment on his face.
But Gibbs's dismissal did not slow things down one bit. Kallis, who was filling his boots in typical fashion, decided to floor the accelerator pedal, and raced to a century that even he will admit was one of the easier ones of his international career. He himself clattered five sixes and 11 fours, staying unbeaten on 128 from 109 balls.
While Kallis built his innings, Mark Boucher, almost unnoticed among all the carnage, clouted his way to the fastest half-century in World Cup history, off only 21 balls. He was no less than any of the batsmen that came before him, and his 31-ball 75 (9 fours, 4 sixes) supercharged the unbeaten 134-run partnership for the third wicket. 353 for 3, then, and any adventurous souls who had punted on Netherlands pulling off an upset had lost their money.
The Dutch did not even make a perfunctory attempt at chasing the target, and chose instead to bat out the 40 overs, reaching 132 for 9. Ryan ten Doeschate helped himself to 57, many South African bowlers added wickets to their career tallies, and South Africa won by 221 runs.
Various experts have questioned the merits of having lesser teams like Netherlands competing in the World Cup, suggesting that repeated thrashings do not help the learning process, and instead psychologically scar developing cricketers. On today's evidence, it's hard to disagree.
Anand Vasu is assistant editor of Cricinfo