South Africa got their World Cup campaign off to a winning start when they beat Zimbabwe by 62 runs in Hamilton on Sunday. It wasn’t easy going, but South Africa bounced back from being under the cosh thanks largely to their ‘back-up’ batsmen. By ANTOINETTE MULLER.
In the lead-up to the 2015 Cricket World Cup, you would have read the following sentence at least once somewhere: “South Africa’s bulky top order are unlikely to all fail at once.”
As it turns out, it’s not such an unlikely occurrence after all. On Sunday, in their opening World Cup match, South Africa were four wickets down without having reached a century. It was the first time in a decade that Zimbabwe had managed to so rattle the Proteas, so much so that South Africa managed to score just 28 runs in the first ten overs.
But South Africa had been planning for this World Cup for months. A rare blip against an unfancied side wasn’t going to trouble them too much. JP Duminy and David Miller combined for an unbeaten 256-run stand, a record in ODIs for the fifth wicket and the highest for any wicket for South Africa.
For the partnership to be effective, rotation of the strike was key. With Zimbabwe’s bowlers getting a sniff, South Africa needed to absorb and transfer the pressure and never allow their bowlers to settle once they had got the upper hand. The pair did this impeccably, scoring at 8.62 runs per over and rotating the strike over 80 times.
Duminy was happy to play the supporting role and although his unbeaten 115 came off a more-than-respectable 100 balls, the day belonged to David Miller. They had batted together just 19 times before Sunday’s effort and accumulated just 426 runs at an average of 25.05 with two half-centuries and one century stand during their time out in the middle together. It’s hardly the bromance of Hashim Amla and Quinton de Kock, but something just clicked on Sunday.
It was Miller’s second century in two months. For a player who has struggled to live up to his domestic reputation, Miller seems to have finally matured. The scorecard will show that Miller’s unbeaten 138 came off a brisk 92 balls; he engineered it with constraint, limiting risks and capitalising on Zimbabwe’s inexperience. He took a steady 55 balls to reach his fifty and then let loose, hitting the second fifty off just 26 balls. That kind of finishing is what Miller has become known for, but because of his disposition of batting so low down, the pressure to fire from the get-go has often bogged down his ability. In most cases, when Miller has been given extra responsibility, he has thrived.
The pair clobbered 146 runs in the last ten overs, largely helped by Zimbabwe’s poor death bowling, but the patient foundation laid earlier also contributed. Having set a target to bowl at, South Africa’s bowlers had it easy. Zimbabwe’s top order put in a spirited fight, with Chamu Chibhabha, Hamilton Masakadza and Brendon Taylor all treating Dale Steyn as if he were a net bowler. But none of them could go on to make it into triple figures. Zim’s biggest mistake was allowing Imran Tahir to settle. The wily spinner ended up with three scalps and an economy rate of 3.60 and his ability to contain, confuse and conquer became evident. But there were still some cases of ‘same old, same old’ for the bowling attack. Persisting with bowling short when it clearly is not working remains the biggest sticking point for a group of bowlers who should be able to blow most sides over. They took all ten wickets in the end, but that does not mean they should rest on their laurels.
But that is a worry for another day. South Africa’s next match is not until Sunday when they take on defending champions India in Melbourne. They have seven days to prepare for whatever shape Virat Kohli’s dominance might take on the day. They also have to decide whether risking Farhaan Behardien, who conceded 40 runs in five overs against Zimbabwe, against a powerhouse Indian batting line-up.
From a batting perspective, there is no need to be concerned over the blip against Zim. Barring Quinton de Kock’s dismissal, where his youthful exuberance seemingly stopped logic from functioning for a few seconds, the top order was skittled out through some terrific work by Zimbabwe. One of those dismissals included an extraordinary catch on the boundary by Craig Ervine. His leaping snatch, thrown back over the rope, only to be retaken, will surely go down as one of the most memorable fielding moments at the end of the tournament.
While South Africa weren’t completely dominant in the opening fixture, they still won comfortably in the end. World Cups are not supposed to be easy, and while the win against Zimbabwe was expected, South Africa’s ability to bounce back from being under the cosh will be a huge boost heading into one of the most important clashes of the tournament. DM
Scorecard summary: South Africa won by 62 runs
South Africa: 339-4 (David Miller, 138*, JP Duminy 115*; Tafadzwa Kamungozi 8-0-34-1, Elton Chigumbura 4-0-30-1)
Zimbabwe: 277 all out (Hamilton Masakadza 80, Chamu Chibhabha 64; Imran Tahir 10-0-36-3, Vernon Philander 8-0-30-2)
Toss: Zimbabwe won the toss and chose to field
Photo: South Africa’s AB De Villiers (2nd R) celebrates with team mate Dale Steyn after dismissing Zimbabwe’s Soloman Mire out caught during their Cricket World Cup match in Hamilton, February 15, 2015. REUTERS/Nigel Marple