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South Africa triumph in thriller
25 Nov 2007
By: Richard Dickinson

South Africa won an incredible First ODI against New Zealand off the last ball having looked all but gone with 3 deliveries to go. The twist at the end of the innings, what's more, was merely the last in a topsy-turvy run-chase that swung one way then the other. New Zealand missed four chances, every one of which proved hugely costly. Kyle Mills, on his return to the ODI side after nearly a year out, took 5 for 25 off 10 overs, but it proved in vain as the South Africans somehow got across the line.

Andre Nel was the hero of the hour, hitting consecutive boundaries when South Africa were virtually out of the game requiring 9 from the last 3, though he would have been gone off the second ball of the final over had Scott Styris held a catch back-pedalling at point. Mark Boucher was the man at the other end and had played his part, though he had never looked comfortable and was reprieved in the 42nd over when he had just 5. Graeme Smith and AB de Villiers, coming together in the 6th over, put-on the biggest stand of the innings, and both owed huge debts of gratitude to the New Zealand fielders; de Villiers was put down off a fierce cut by Ross Taylor on 21, and Smith should have been caught at mid-on by Daniel Vettori who reacted painstakingly late on 25. Amidst all these fortunate innings, Jean-Paul Duminy played a composed and elegant 46, almost beyond doubt the best innings so far of his young ODI career.

South Africa's chase of 249 had got off to the worst possible start, thanks mainly to Mills, who bowled Morne van Wyk with an indipper in the opening over and grabbed the crucial wicket of Jacques Kallis in his third. The wicket would have been all the sweeter for the fact that it was possibly the delivery of the summer so far: pitching short of a length right on off-stump, Kallis had to play and was completely turned around as the ball darted away off the wicket, and Taylor took a simple chance at slip. The wickets were not the only problem for South Africa: Mills and Mark Gillespie were bang on the money, conceding just 17 from the opening 11 overs, with Smith and de Villiers unable to get anything away nor take any liberties with the ball moving around viciously.

The first release came when Chris Martin replaced Gillespie, who might have continued but for a problem with his foot, later to pose great headaches for the bowler and his captain. Martin's opening over cost 12, and though he had de Villiers dropped in his second the delivery was a poor one and the over cost 8. Martin continued to struggle, and Gillespie upon his return to the bowling-crease was clearly hampered by the injury. Soon after this, Martin had the second chance missed off his bowling, as Vettori appeared to think Smith had made a far better contact than he had when attempting to loft over mid-off. With the ball, Vettori could not staunch the flow either, and nor could Styris, who was picked as a front-line bowler in this game with Jacob Oram missing. As de Villiers brought-up his half-century and South Africa's century the delivery after the halfway-mark, the home side were cruising.

That changed when Smith pulled a rank long-hop from Styris straight down Martin's throat at deep-mid-wicket. There was some doubt as to whether the fielder was in contact with the rope, but with no camera-angles able to give a convincing account the word of the fielder had to be accepted. Duminy at first struggled to get going, especially against Vettori, but with de Villiers by now in vintage touch this barely mattered, and once the Western Province left-hander begun to find his feet and the middle of the bat South Africa were soon looking to be in a virtually impregnable position, though the required-rate remained always above a-run-a-ball. The equation begun to swing back New Zealand's way when Vettori made-up to an extent for his miss off Smith by taking a blinding reflex catch off his own bowling to finally get rid of de Villiers; after throwing the ball up, the batsman arrived a fraction too soon on the stroke and lofted the ball to Vettori's right. The New Zealand captain, though, stuck out the hand - his wrong hand - and clung-on magnificently.

Boucher struggled even worse than Duminy initially had, and suddenly, by the time Vettori had bowled-out his team were in the driving-seat. In Martin's next over, though, Mathew Sinclair made the next crucial miss. Boucher swung one towards long-on and Sinclair was afflicted by the same malaise that befell his captain from Smith's similar stroke. By the time he got to the ball, it had bounced.

As if to underline the miss, the next 3 overs cost 28. Still, however, more twists were in store. First Duminy top-edged one to square-leg - he might have felt cheated that the first opportunity he offered was accepted (by the substitute, Jeetan Patel). South Africa were left requiring 29 from the final 4 overs, to be bowled by Mills and Gillespie. Mills may have had many nightmares about Shaun Pollock's hitting ability, but he claimed this particular round, as the ginger-haired all-rounder slapped one straight to Taylor at long-on. Albie Morkel lasted just 2 deliveries, caught brilliantly by Brendon McCullum with his left-hand. And despite an average over from Gillespie that cost 11, Mills completed his five-for in his last over as Johan Botha dragged a short, wide delivery to long-on.

This left the home side needing 11 from the last over. Nel swiped and missed the first, then lofted the second over cover. Two fielders converged, but Styris, from point, was much best positioned for the catch. For the third time in the innings, a fielder did not even get a hand on something he should have swallowed. However, the miss appeared unlikely to matter, as Boucher was now on strike and all appeared to depend on him staying there. He failed, to do so, however, and with the single it was up to 3-a-ball. But Nel, who smote 25 from 30 balls in the Second Test, struck gold: he drilled the fourth along the mat through extra-cover and clattered the fifth, possibly even more powerfully, into the same area, giving the deep fielders no chance either time. From despair, suddenly South Africa could not lose the match.

Once in that position, of course, a tie would have felt like defeat, but they need not have worried - after an aborted first attempt where Gillespie checked Boucher's backing-up, a wide delivery was skewed over cover. Martin at point made a valiant effort to reach the ball but in the end had no chance, and Boucher and Nel embraced as the crowed erupted in scenes that recalled The Wanderers in March 2006.

The New Zealand innings seemed tame by comparison, but it too had its share of twists and turns. Pollock, still in the ODI side despite his recent ejections from the longer form, demonstrated his parsimony for the umpteenth time as his opening 4 overs cost just a single. Lou Vincent struck a short delivery from Makhaya Ntini for six in the 4th over but had a characteristic rush of blood the following delivery and was bowled stepping away. Jamie How, recalled to the side after the retirements of Nathan Astle, Craig McMillan and Stephen Fleming and the absence of Peter Fulton through injury, had been demoted to the number-three position with McCullum restored to the top of the order.

Pollock continued to prove, and Nel took the cue after Ntini was whipped off following 3 expensive overs. Only when Albie Morkel was introduced did the batsmen get true respite, and at 77 for 1 at the conclusion of the Powerplays were in a position of strength considering they had been put in on a track expected to offer plenty to the seamers.

It was especially ironic, then, that Botha was the man to make the breakthrough, bowling McCullum as he both yorked and nutmegged himself in the same delivery. Styris, though, finally showed some semblance of form for the first time on the tour. The South African seamers might have been more economical had they not pitched so many short of a length: How latched onto the pull-stroke like no other in his armoury. Botha was impressive as he had rarely been in Pakistan, conceding just 22 from his first 7.

It was the 38th over before the home side claimed their third wicket, as Styris had a huge swing, top-edged, and Botha took the steepler at mid-wicket. This was the first of three for Nel in his principal role, though he took a catch at deep-mid-wicket off Morkel in between to end the innings of Taylor, who had thwacked a 22-ball 20. Nel finally removed How for an important, if never wholly convincing, 90 with a pinpoint yorker, then removed Gareth Hopkins (one 8 players who could in various guises said to be "on the comeback trail") first ball - the first ball, in fact, the unfortunate wicketkeeper has faced in his ODI career after he was run-out without facing in his only previous innings back in July 2004. Sinclair, though, crowned something of a happy comeback in his first ODI since February 2005 with 32* from 23. The Kiwis were disappointed at the time not to make 250; how much more disappointed they might have been with hindsight.

New Zealand 248 for 6 (50 overs)
Brendon McCullum 40, Jamie How 90, Scott Styris 40, Mathew Sinclair 32*
Shaun Pollock 10-21-0, Andre Nel 10-46-3

South Africa 249 for 8 (50 overs)
Graeme Smith 44, AB de Villiers 87, Jean-Paul Duminy 46, Mark Boucher 35*

South Africa won by 2 wickets

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