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Alan Gardner in Chittagong
March 27, 2014
Netherlands' World T20 rollercoaster ride continues. As they raced into a match-winning position against South Africa, the wind was rippling through their hair, the adrenaline building, 39 all out receding to vanishing point behind them. Then they clanked on to the rails of the Big Dipper and embarked on a rattling, juddering, gut-spinning plunge back towards the hard earth of reality.
Netherlands should have won the game, should have punished South Africa for fiddling with the team in a match they needed to be sure of taking the points from. After the platform built by the hero of Sylhet, Stephan Myburgh, Pretoria-born but anointed Netherlands' "master blaster", his team required less than a run-a-ball from the ninth over onwards. They should have been comfortable; they ought to have kept their heads. They lost nine for 59 in 10.5 overs. "Shoulda, woulda, coulda," as Beverly Knight once sang.
Approaching the line, at an ever slower pace, they froze - like the point on the ride where an unseen camera captures those buckled into the carriage, all silent screams and rictus grins. Imran Tahir wound a spidery web around the middle order but, as Peter Borren said afterwards, this was not spin bowling from a faraway star system.
At the end of the 12th over, Netherlands were 114 for 4 with the Coopers, Tom and Ben, at the crease. They had no need to try and barrel away, the asking rate down to four an over. Then Dale Steyn returned, removing Ben Cooper with a sharp short ball and exposing Netherlands' long tail. For the second time in four days, South Africa engaged their new-fangled anti-choke hold.
The result consigned Ahsan Malik's maiden five-wicket haul in any format to footnote status and meant that the issues with South Africa's batting could be ignored for another day. Faf du Plessis' decision to open the bowling with Albie Morkel and Beuran Hendricks and then turn to Lonwabo Tsotsobe before Steyn will escape forensic scrutiny. South Africa used the game to try a few things - resting Morne Morkel, batting Albie up the order - but they also juggled with their chances of reaching the semi-finals.
Netherlands, on the back of their wretched capitulation against Sri Lanka, returned to their punching weight and looked certain to add Chittagong 2014 to Lord's 2009. In defeat, Borren looked drained, this loss potentially more damaging because they had come tantalisingly close. Netherlands' desperation to trip up an established opponent was as big a factor as South Africa refusing to blink once again.
"We just really want to get a win or an upset at this tournament," he said. "We had a really good opportunity today, we've got two more opportunities and I really hope we can take one of those. I believe this team can play, I'm very glad that we suited up because we were getting bagged back home, guys having a bit of a go at us. At least we showed that we can compete.
"This was one of the best teams in the world and we should have won pretty comfortably. Normally when you lose to a team like this and it's close, we might think we played at 100 percent and they're just a better team. Well actually, we didn't play anywhere near 100 percent, if we'd played 100 percent we would have won comfortably. That's the shame.
"It's not like we're a 39 all out team, that's an anomaly. It's mainly about belief, our confidence took a pretty big hit last night but we had two days off, a bit of a break and we came back. We've got the attitude that we've got nothing much to lose but we've also got a lot of skills and we showed that tonight, a lot of skill with what we did with the ball and in the field. But I wish the last ten overs were different and the batting had continued our fine performance."
The matinee slot is usually a little more sedate but this was another squeaker of a finish in Chittagong's afternoon match. All three of South Africa's games have so far produced the T20 goods with uncommon reliability, although whether the television ratings will be as useful as net run rate come the end of the group stage is a different matter.
With Myburgh at the crease, cutting Tsotsobe with murderous intent through point and then plonking him nonchalantly over deep midwicket, an upset seemed a racing certainty. Myburgh even clattered Steyn down the ground during his third T20 half-century, and second of the tournament, but when he dragged on, hands whirring so forcefully through the shot that he threw the bat away, the altitude became too much for his team-mates. Better buckle up, because there is no getting off the ride yet.
Alan Gardner is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets hereFeeds: Alan Gardner
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