South Africa A coasted to an eight-wicket victory over Zimbabwe A in the first of their series of three one-day matches at Country Club. Their win was built on excellent bowling by their pacemen, followed by fifties from captain Graeme Smith and Jacques Rudolph.
It was a hot, steamy day as Heath Streak, playing for the A side to build up his fitness for the World Cup, won the toss and decided to bat on the usual sound batting pitch at Country Club. New-ball bowlers Steve Elworthy and Alan Dawson were an object lesson in accuracy and Zimbabwe A's openers, Crai Wishart and Mark Vermeulen, both players who like to hit the ball hard, found difficulty in moving the score along.
In the tenth over a frustrated Vermeulen (5) played over a ball from Andre Nel, in his first over, that removed his middle stump, and the score was only 15 for one. Travis Friend had a lucky escape when a vicious delivery from Nel flew off the handle of his bat high over the head of the square-leg umpire and the nearby fielder, but he was no more successful in moving the score along; a thick outfield and fine South African ground fielding were further hindrances.
After 20 overs the score was incredibly a mere 33 for one; the first boundary did not come until the 22nd over, when Wishart drove Albie Morkel handsomely through extra cover. Friend followed it up three balls later with an off-drive for another four, and for the first time the run rate exceeded two an over. Immediately Friend, caught up in the excitement of it all, drove over a ball from Justin Ontong and was bowled for 17.
Grant Flower, bringing his experience to bear on the situation, was soon working ones and twos through the field. Wishart finally fell for an uncharacteristic 35 in two hours, caught low at midwicket when Smith brought himself on to bowl. Flower went on to hit 37 off 48 balls before hitting a skyer over midwicket that was superbly caught by Prince who had to turn and run at full speed after it. In the 40th over Zimbabwe A had recovered to 125 for four.
Dion Ebrahim (33) lost the opportunity of a major innings in a mix-up with Guy Whittall, who did not respond to his call for a second run, and in the same over Doug Marillier (1) skyed a return catch to Nel. Whittall, in need of runs, had 22 when he drove Dawson to mid-off, and then Streak (9) was superbly caught by McKenzie on the long-off boundary off a stroke that would probably have carried for six. The innings finished in drizzle as the Zimbabweans finished on a disappointing 182 for nine.
Light rain, followed by a sparse drizzle, during the break delayed the resumption and five overs were lost, amending the target to 173. The pitch had been slightly dampened by the rain, which made the outfield even heavier, but against that Zimbabwe had to contend with a wet ball.
The openers Smith and Rudolph also scored slowly at first, against good bowling by Streak and in particular Henry Olonga, but with a small target they were not under great pressure. They saw off the opening burst with caution and then slowly began to open up. Smith was the more aggressive, no doubt motivated by his omission from South Africa's World Cup team, while Rudolph was content to play sleeping partner.
Finally Smith provided Murphy, who had completely lost his radar, with a lucky wicket, pulling him to deep midwicket to depart for 77, scored off 81 balls out of an opening partnership of 115. Rudolph and Martin van Jaarsveld tried to increase the tempo, but the conditions and tight Zimbabwean bowling and fielding made it largely a war of attrition. Whittall in particular kept a brake on the scoring, his seven overs yielding only 10 runs, and his bowling will be of great value in the World Cup if his knee holds out.
Van Jaarsveld fell for 16 off 47 balls to a Douggie Marillier return catch, which seems as much a specialty of his nowadays as his famous scoop shot over the keeper's head. Then in Marillier's next over Neil McKenzie drove him wide of mid-off for four to give South Africa a convincing victory with 4.2 overs remaining. It was a disappointing showing by Zimbabwe, whose eleven was made up entirely of players from their World Cup squad.