A magnificent display of clean hitting from Albie Morkel, South Africa's slog-over specialist, and good support from AB de Villiers helped South Africa reach a match-winning score against New Zealand in their opening Super Eights game at the Kensington Oval. A target of 170 required a solid partnership or two from New Zealand, but a committed display in the field ensured that the initiative always remained with South Africa.
The last five overs of South Africa's innings, which produced 62, proved the difference between the teams. After a sprightly start by Jacques Kallis and Graeme Smith, South Africa slumped a little in the middle overs but importantly, kept wickets in hand to allow Morkel and de Villiers to step on the gas.
de Villiers and Herschelle Gibbs saw off a quiet period including a boundary-drought that lasted 22 balls. The New Zealand slow bowlers kept things tight with the wicketkeeper up to the stumps and the pair pinched singles before knocking off boundaries to give the innings momentum.
The bowlers lost the plot when Morkel walked in and he made a mockery of the low full tosses dished out by the bowlers. He began with a mis-hit off Vettori which cleared the rope but the rest was out of sheer power. Using the crease, he ensured he got under the ball and muscled it powerfully straight down the ground. Three of his five sixes came in a single over from Tim Southee, which leaked 21 runs. The bowlers erred by bowling too full to Morkel, in his hitting area, while he was hardly tested by the short delivery. de Villiers, who was dropped on 35 by Nathan McCullum at long-on, made New Zealand pay by smashing Shane Bond over wide long-on two balls later. His bludgeoned six off Nathan McCullum over deep midwicket to a ball which kept low, was his stand-out shot.
The partnership produced 72 runs in just 6.2 overs and wrecked New Zealand's plans of restricting South Africa to a score in the 140s, which England chased down easily a couple of hours earlier.
A brilliant piece of fielding set South Africa rolling the minute they got the ball. Gibbs swooped to his right to pluck a punchy drive off Brendon McCullum in the first over. Gibbs went on to take two more catches to halt threatening partnerships as the chase progressed.
The best partnership New Zealand could manage was 44 between Jesse Ryder and Martin Guptill for the second wicket. But it wasn't a very convincing stint at the crease for Guptill, who looked edgy outside the off stump. He carved two consecutive boundaries off Dale Steyn to get some semblance of momentum going, but the bowler largely got on top of him with his pace. When Guptill tried to break free against the spin of Johan Botha, he found the hands of Morkel at long-on.
New Zealand needed one of their other hitters to carry on after making starts, but both Ryder and Ross Taylor failed in that regard. Ryder's 33 featured two effortless hits over the rope but he was foxed by Botha's flight and ended up spooning a simple catch to mid-off. With the required rate climbing beyond 10, Taylor's powerful boundary hits on the on side seemed to give New Zealand some respite, but Gibbs' agility at midwicket ensured that South Africa held the initiative.
Curiously, New Zealand held back their biggest hitter, Jacob Oram, and instead sent in Gareth Hopkins. Though Hopkins blazed two sixes in his short stint, it came a little too late. Oram had only five overs to try and get New Zealand out of jail, but he only lasted two balls. When he walked off, the match was firmly in South Africa's hands and it was only a matter of how close New Zealand could get.
The only downside for South Africa was they were fined for being an over short of the expected rate. Smith was docked 20% of his match fee by Alan Hurst, the match referee, and his players suffered a 10% reduction.