England managed a convincing, albeit dreadfully boring, four-wicket win over South Africa on Friday to return to the top of the world ODI rankings. The tussle continues on Sunday, but the Proteas have plenty to ponder before then, writes ANT SIMS.
South Africa surrendered their newly-acquired number one ODI ranking back to England on Friday as they succumbed meekly to a four-wicket loss at The Oval. The tug-o-war will continue until the series concludes on Wednesday next week, but that doesn’t stop England from reminding the world that they’re on top again, for the time being at least.
After winning the toss and choosing to bat, the visitors got off to a bit of a slow start and Graeme Smith was dismissed as the 50 was brought up for the visitors. Smith, who was looking rather impatient, missed a pull and was clean bowled by James Anderson. Hashim Amla followed soon after as Jade Dernbach picked up his first stick, sending Amla on his way for a nifty 43. The Proteas looked a bit shaky at 73-2 after 16.1 overs. Dean Elgar and AB de Villiers then combined to add 47 for the third-wicket partnership, but the South Africans just couldn't get out of the blocks as the English bowlers managed to take the pace off the ball and put a lid on the run-rate, keeping it just under five for most the innings. De Villiers failed to capitalise on his form from the South African summer and he was sent on his way for just 28 as James Tredwell, who came in to replace Graeme Swann, picked up his first wicket of the match. Faf du Plessis soon followed, clean bowled by Ravi Bopara for one.
Elgar managed to get stuck in, though, and scraped his way to 42 off 61 before he was sent packing by Dernbach. South Africa looked in a spot of bother at 141-5 on a pitch which seemed sticky and slow. Wickets continued to tumble before JP Duminy and Robin Peterson put on 40 runs for the seventh wicket, but the hosts failed to bat out their allotted 50 overs and were all out for 211 after 46.4 overs.
The Oval has never been a high-scoring ground, and while South Africa brought back Dale Steyn in place of Ryan McLaren, the total they set for the hosts was always going to be tough to defend. England needed to score at a meagre 4.24 runs an over, but Alastair Cook and Ian Bell got off to a rather laboured start with Bell falling early to Dale Steyn while Cook crawled his way to 20 off 47 before being dismissed by Robin Peterson. England was still solid, though, at 64-3; and despite Bopara falling for a duck, it was Jonathan Trott and Eoin Morgan who made batting look easy as they combined for a tremendous 108-run partnership to put England in the driving seat.
Morgan eventually fell to Peterson for a brilliant 73 off 67 balls, and while the lower order stuttered alongside a rock-steady Trott, England cruised to a reasonably easy victory in the end with two overs still to spare. South Africa managed some respite in the dying overs of the game as Trott was dismissed for 71 off 125 with England still five runs short of the target, but the Proteas will have plenty to ponder after their performance at The Oval.
As is their wont, South Africa will be confronted with the albatross of the c-word again, although their loss at The Oval was far from a choke. They lost because they were marginally inept and failed to execute their plans properly. As one-day internationals go, this one was rather dull, and the match dragged on to what was inevitable right from when South Africa ended its innings.
Overall, the visitors’ performance was below par. Despite winning the toss and having a chance to set a solid total, they failed to capitalise on the conditions and struggled against England’s slower bowlers. The ODI team is somewhat young and inexperienced as unit, but there is little excuse for poor execution with the bat and shoddy fielding which has marred their work on the shorter format. They have a chance to redeem themselves at Lord’s on Sunday – and bouncing back has been a strong point for the Proteas in the past few months. But whether they can bounce back from the inability to gel as a new group of players will remain to be seen. DM
Photo: England's Jonathan Trott (R) hits the ball past South Africa's AB de Villiers during the third one-day international cricket match at the Kia Oval cricket ground in London August 31, 2012. REUTERS/Philip Brown