Normal Service has Resumed

Setting out in pursuit of Australia’s enormous six for 377, A B de Villiers and Graeme Smith invoked memories of Johannesburg last year when South Africa chased down 434 as they gave Australia a taste of their own medicine, pounding their way to a 160 run partnership before de Villiers was brilliantly run out by Shane Watson for a sparkling 92 from only 70 balls.

A moment of magic was always likely to separate these teams, and it was Watson’s athletic diving stop, quick regathering of his feet and direct hit from the deep backward square-leg boundary which turned the game Australia’s way. When Smith retired hurt a short time later with leg, back and arm cramps, one sensed that the game had turned the way of the defending champions, and so it proved as the Proteas subsided to be all out for 294.

The unusual end for both de Villiers and Smith came as a respite for Australia’s bowlers, who were taking a pasting from the South African openers. They took ten runs from Nathan Bracken’s first over of the innings to set the tone for such a massive run chase. de Villiers and Smith were particularly harsh on Shaun Tait, who went for 44 runs from his first four overs before returning to finish strongly with two for 61 from his ten. de Villiers dominated the early stages, taking 79 from the first 11 overs of the innings, during which, as had been the case when Australia batted earlier in the day, the small ground in St. Kitts was simply not big enough for good players on a flat pitch with modern bats.

Once de Villiers and Smith departed, Brad Hogg chimed in to tighten the screws for Ausralia. Hogg once again demonstrated that few international batsmen are able to pick his wrong ‘un, which perplexed much of the South African line-up. Combining with Watson, McGrath and Bracken, Hogg tightened the run chase dramatically between overs 31 and 40, when South Africa only made three for 50, compared with Australia’s none for 87 in the same period of their innings. It was during these overs that Hogg captured the ever-dangerous Herchelle Gibbs, stumped by Adam Gilchrist for only 17 and Glenn McGrath claimed Ashwell Prince for one, caught by man-of-the-match Matthew Hayden on the deep square boundary. When Tait bowled Boucher in the 39th for 22 the game was up for South Africa. Despite Smith’s return at the fall of Boucher’s wicket, he was soon caught by Gilchrist from Hogg for an explosive 74 from only 69 deliveries faced.

Although Jacques Kallis batted with his usual class in compiling 48 from 63, it may have been prudent to have listed Gibbs at number three in the order when chasing such a massive score. Eventually, with South Africa needing nearly 12 runs per over for the last nine, wickets began to fall regularly and the Proteas were eventually all out in the face of some tight death-bowling by the Australians.

Earlier, South African captain Graeme Smith won the toss and sent Australia in. Hayden and Gilchrist each set about the bowling with a blistering attack on the normally miserly Shaun Pollock. Such was the ferocity of the assault that Australia brought up 50 runs from the first five overs as Pollock went for 42 from his own first five. For his part, Makhaya Ntini also went for 35 in his first spell.

Normally Gilchrist leads the way for Australia at the top of the order, and he was hardly slow today in compiling 42 from as many balls. But it was Hayden who really shone. His assault on Pollock – normally the least expensive of a combative South African attack, was of enormous signficance. The South African veteran paceman was collared for five from his first over, eleven from his second and an astonishing 17 from his third as Hayden turned back the clock. In recent times he has sometimes tried to force the issue too early in ODIs and has perished before establishing himself, but today it was the Hayden of 2001/02 – waiting for the ball to come to him, and dispatching it to all points of the small and lightning fast Warner Park ground in St Kitts. Hayden’s perfect balance and timing in depositing a bowler of Pollock’s class over long-on twice in one over was a sight to behold and set the tone for Australia’s massive total.

When Smith was forced to replace Ntini and Pollock with Hall and Langeveldt, the run rate slowed somewhat, but by the time Gilchrist was caught by Gibbs at backward point from Langeveldt, Australia were still 106 for one from 14.4 overs. Hayden, however, took any grief at the loss of his partner out on the South Africans and, with one ball left to pass the record of Canada’s John Davidson for the fastest ever World Cup ton, Hayden straight drove Smith for six to complete his hundred from just 66 balls. When caught by Gibbs from a clever slower ball from Jacques Kallis for 101, Hayden had struck 14 fours and four sixes from 68 balls.

Hayden’s departure provided little respite for the South Africans as Ricky Ponting and Michael Clarke set about building a 161 run stand in 22 overs. Ponting was his usual self in compliing his 91, striking the ball almost at will down the ground, whilst Clarke – seen by the South Africans as an apparent weakness in the Australian line-up – was particularly impressive in his lateral use of the crease, constantly moving around as the bowlers approached and upsetting their lines and lengths.

Andrew Hall was easily the pick of the South African bowlers, mixing up his pace well and consistently pitching the ball in the right spots for Smth’s well set late-overs fields. Whilst Australia managed 88 in their last 10 overs, they appeared to be cruising towards 400 until such time as the South Africans tightened up their lines and consistently pitched the ball on a very full length. It was testament to Hall’s accuracy that in an innings of 377, Hall bowled his ten overs and took two for 60, while the last over of the innings which he bowled to Hussey, Symonds and Watson no less, went for only four runs.

When Ponting fell for 91 in the 45th over, there was an enormous cheer by the Australian fans as Symonds came to the crease after his lengthy lay-off through injury. He immediately showed no ill-effects from his torn biceps muscle, striking a fearful cover drive in the dying overs and having no hesitation in hitting the ball inside-out through the off side – the very shot which caused his injury. Likewise, when it was Australia’s turn to field Symonds threw himself arond with abandon, bowled a few overs and hurled the ball into Gilchrist as though he’d never been away. His remarkable return from injury could be the talisman which brings Australia a third consecutive World Cup.

This was a curious match in many ways. With both sides already qualified for the next stage, it meant very little in one sense. But it was easy to tell that both sides are well aware that they are likely to meet towards the business end of the tournament, and that each hoped to take an edge over the other into the later stages.

For Australia, improved bowling in the middle overs and at the death will have pleased Ponting, but their inability to take wickets with the new ball against top sides continues to be a concern. The successful return of Symonds was by far the most important part of the game for the champions.

For the Proteas, their late innings bolwing was also top class, although Smith admitted that his side had let the Aussies get away too easily during the early and middle overs of the innings. With the bat, Smith’s own form and that of de Villiers bodes well for the latter stages of the tournament, though the unusual manner in which both left the field may give rise to renewed talk of the South African World Cup curse raising its head yet again.

After the game, both captains thanked the people of St. Kitts and Nevis for the hospitality during the group stages. In an interesting post-script to the game, Gibbs and Hayden were each made honorary citizens of the island nation for their feats in hitting six sixes in one over and scoring the fastest ever World Cup hundred respectively, during the group matches.

Australia 377-6
Matthew Hayden 101, Michael Clarke 92, Ricky Ponting 91
Andrew Hall 2-60

South Africa 294 all out (48)
AB de Villiers 92, Graeme Smith 74, Jacques Kallis 48
Brad Hogg 3-61, Nathan Bracken 2-40, Shaun Tait 2-61

Australia won by 83 runs

Cricket Web Player of the Match Matthew Hayden 101 (68)

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