Scotland v South Africa, ICC World Twenty20, The Oval

South Africa send the right message

Andrew Miller at The Oval

June 7, 2009

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AB de Villiers made an unbeaten 79, Scotland v South Africa, ICC World Twenty20, The Oval, June 7, 2009
AB de Villiers: "We had good fun out there today, the boundaries are short at one end of the ground, so we took advantage of that." © Getty Images
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That's the way to dispatch a minnow side. It was sadly in keeping with Scotland's desperate year that they should be the first team to depart the ICC World Twenty20, but if it is of any consolation to Gavin Hamilton and his men (and it won't be), the fully focussed South Africans would have inflicted the same fate on both Netherlands, who stunned England on Friday, and Ireland, who have their own golden opportunity against Bangladesh tomorrow.

South Africa are among the favourites for this tournament, and today they produced a myriad of reasons why. There was the calm but firm authority of their 87-run opening stand between Graeme Smith and Jacques Kallis; the brutality of their lower-order power-hitting, with AB de Villiers hurtling along at more than two runs per ball, and then the pace and variety of a bowling attack, spearheaded by Dale Steyn, that looks as though it has a performer for all occasions.

It was, as Smith confirmed after a 130-run victory which stands as the second-heaviest ever inflicted in Twenty20 internationals, a very satisfactory way to warm up for greater challenges. "Our first week of preparation went very well for us," he said. "We achieved everything out of those early warm-up games that we wanted to, and today was about controlling our early-tournament nerves, setting a platform and playing to our intensity, and to our game. I'm very happy we did that today."

If South Africa had at any stage in the build-up to this match been tempted to let their guard drop, then the sight of the Dutch triumph at Lord's on Friday, coupled with Scotland's own spirited batting display in a seven-over slugfest on Saturday, meant they were fully clued up come the start of play.

"I think we had a few more nerves after watching the first few days of the tournament, with a few unpredictable results, I guess," said Smith. "We knew today was important to send a message and we did that."

No mini-period was more emphatic than the final five overs of South Africa's innings, in which 83 runs were spanked by de Villiers and Albie Morkel, while the ferocity of their subsequent bowling performance meant Scotland lost their first four wickets in 15 deliveries.

"The first six and last five overs are crucial scoring areas," said Smith, "especially if you have AB at the crease and some good finishers to come in you're always going to get a good total. I thought we set the game up well today, and AB and Albie down the bottom finished it beautifully.

"I guess it's about finding a balance between the touch players and the power players, but The Oval is a fast-scoring ground, so if you can get in here, you can take the game away because the outfield is so quick."

de Villiers, the Man of the Match, agreed with that assessment, having taken a relatively sedate six deliveries to score his first six runs. "I did take a few balls to get in, but the credit goes to the openers for giving us a foundation to go and express ourselves," he said. "We had good fun out there today, the boundaries are short at one end of the ground, so we took advantage of that."

As Scotland exit the competition, South Africa have confirmed their place in the final eight, alongside New Zealand, whom they play at Lord's on Tuesday. "We've played against New Zealand enough to know they are tough competitors, and on their day they can challenge and beat anybody," said Smith. "We will respect them as we would any opponent."

Respect is the key in this format, in which any side is capable of mounting a challenge given half a chance. Today, however, Scotland weren't offered even the slenderest foothold in the contest. "The big focus for us is playing to our intensity, and playing our game," said Smith. "If we can do that, we can challenge any team in this tournament."

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo

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Andrew Miller Andrew Miller was saved from a life of drudgery in the City when his car caught fire on the way to an interview. He took this as a sign and fled to Pakistan where he witnessed England's historic victory in the twilight at Karachi (or thought he did, at any rate - it was too dark to tell). He then joined Wisden Online in 2001, and soon graduated from put-upon photocopier to a writer with a penchant for comment and cricket on the subcontinent. In addition to Pakistan, he has covered England tours in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, as well as the World Cup in the Caribbean in 2007
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