Smith spearheads SA success

South Africa launched their summer series against Australia with a thrilling two-run win in tonight’s Standard Bank International Pro20 match at the New Wanderers ground in Johannesburg.

Fresh from a thoroughly disappointing reverse series that included a Test Series defeat and a surprise VB series exit at the hands of the Sri Lankans, South African skipper Graeme Smith led from the front with bat, ball and in the field as he spearheaded their win.

Following a two-hour downpour that pushed the start time back to 8pm local time, Smith elected to bat first as he joined Loots Bosman, playing his first match for the national side, in the middle. Despite Brett Lee and Nathan Bracken finding early lateral movement, both batsmen were able to survive the opening spells and quicken the scoring rate, before Bosman was bowled by Mick Lewis for 23.

This was the highlight of the Victoria seamer’s day, however, as new man Herschelle Gibbs took a liking to his bowling, and then that of Shane Watson and spinner Brad Hogg, striking the left-armer’s two overs for 38 runs – Lewis flooring a steepling chance at long-off and misfielding on the boundary in the process.

The bowler redeemed himself somewhat, claiming Gibbs leg before wicket, before Shaun Pollock and Johan van der Wath perished in the search for quick runs. Smith ended unbeaten on 89, an innings built in even time, from 58 balls that included eleven fours and a six. A straight hit for four from the final ball of Bracken’s twentieth over – the left armer strangely preferred to Brett Lee, who only bowled three overs – brought the home side’s tally to 201 for four.

With Andrew Symonds missing from the Australian lineup, much depended on Adam Gilchrist and Ricky Ponting. However, both big guns were silenced by the medium paced swing bowling of Andrew Hall and the trigger-happy left index finger of Karl Hurter. Gilchrist was sawn off to a ball that pitched outside leg stump, whilst HawkEye showed both wicket-taking deliveries would have passed over the bails.

Damien Martyn had joined his colleagues on the bench inside the six overs of fielding restrictions, the toe end of his bat guiding van der Wath’s outswinger to AB de Villiers, standing in for Mark Boucher behind the stumps. Meanwhile, Katich had been particularly severe on Makhaya Ntini, returning from injury having missed the tour of Australia, and was threatening to reprise the innings that fellow left-hander Smith had played for the hosts.

It was Roger Telemachus, like Bosman a Pro20 specialist, who removed Katich. The New South Wales opener skied a slower ball to the South African skipper at midwicket, and soon after Shane Watson had also perished. An over of naggingly tight off spin from Smith had ratcheted the asking rate towards two per ball, and Watson aimed an ugly heave at left-arm spinner Robin Peterson – only to see the ball grip, turn and knock his leg stump out of the ground.

Australia needed 109 from nine overs, with little in the way of batting to come. Even so, the game was far from up as Smith sent down a brace of rank full tosses, which Clarke gleefully deposited in the midwicket stands. The first hit drew blood from the nose of a spectator, whose efforts to hold the missile came up well short of even Mick Lewis’ standards. Standard Bank had sponsored hard plastic hats that half the crowd sported with this eventuality in mind – Clarke’s blows were just two of 16 sixes struck in the game – perhaps next time full-face helmets will be in order?

Brad Hogg, batting at seven, joined in on the big hitting in the next over as he carted Peterson for a brace of maximums over midwicket, but just as the batting side looked to be bringing themselves back on terms with their hosts, Clarke charged down the wicket as the left-armer tossed the ball up. The batsman was stranded well down the wicket as the ball skipped between his pads and his flick across the line, leaving de Villiers with a simple stumping.

Hogg and Brett Lee were left with a seemingly impossible task, 78 runs required from just seven overs – but with a mix of lusty hitting, brisk running between the wickets and no little luck, they were able to whittle the total downwards, taking double figures from almost every over. The home side were unlucky not to see the back of Hogg as Andrew Hall returned to the attack, as his attempt at a ‘ramp’ shot over the wicket keeper skidded off the face of the blade and into the wicketkeeper’s gloves, only for umpire Hurter to inexplicably refuse to raise his finger.

It needed a sensational piece of fielding from Smith to separate the two Australians, the captain flinging himself to his right at mid wicket, just inside the circle, and clinging on to a sweetly-hit clip from Hogg. With Australia’s seventh-wicket stand separated, Nathan Bracken was never likely to be able to help Lee guide the tourists home. Nonetheless, with 19 required from a final over to be bowled by Makhaya Ntini, who was struggled for line and length earlier, the game was still on.

Lee threw his bat at the first ball of the over, a length ball outside off stump, and saw it flash off the edge to the third man boundary before collecting a brace of twos – one chipped over midwicket, the next expertly fielded on the cover boundary by Gibbs – to reduce the target to eleven. Ntini finally provided what the 28,000 Bull Ring fans desired from the fourth delivery, hitting the blockhole and restricting Lee to a scrambled single towards square leg. A swing and a miss from Bracken later, and Lee’s giant last-ball six didn’t matter.

Australia’s lower order had once again run their opponents desperately close having looked in a hopeless position, but with five ODIs and three Tests to come over the next six weeks, South Africa will be ecstatic to prove to themselves beating the Australians is within their capabilities. For Man of the Match Graeme Smith and his charges, the task is now to transfer the form to the ODI arena, starting at Centurion’s SuperSport Park on Sunday. For Australia, well, it’s only one game – but isn’t that how the Ashes started?

South Africa 201-4
Graeme Smith 89*, Herschelle Gibbs 56
Mick Lewis 2-31, Shane Watson 1-35

Australia 199-7
Brett Lee 43*, Brad Hogg 41
Andrew Hall 3-22, Robin Peterson 2-29

South Africa won by 2 runs

Cricket Web Player of the Match
Graeme Smith (South Africa)

Leave a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until they have been approved

More articles by Neil Pickup