South Africa’s bowling plans were made public when a hotel guest mistakenly received a strategy sheet meant for Dale Steyn and posted it on social media. Yet it was New Zealand’s attack that struggled to adapt to the same surface they read so well during Sunday’s Twenty20 as a rejuvenated Hashim Amla, scored 124 – his 21st century – to steer South Africa’s course to a 20-run win. The hundred helped him join Herschelle Gibbs as the South Africa batsman with the most ODI hundreds.
Amla and Rilee Rossouw shared in a 185-run, second-wicket partnership which set up the victory and ended a lean patch for the opener that has stretched back seven innings. It was a less silken century than usual for Amla but he was not the only one guilty of sloppiness. Mis-timed shots and dropped catches on a bumpy winter outfield provided some of the entertainment after Amla had provided the opening act, and South Africa’s attack did the rest.
New Zealand chose to make first use of a strip they thought they knew but Mitchell McClenaghan’s short-ball barrage was not as successful as it was in the T20. He tried to force the short ball to talk but the only conversation it had at first was with Amla’s bat, which spat out an upper cut and a hook to give the batsman his first two boundaries in sixes. McClenaghan’s stock delivery was a bit more effective from around the wicket, when he changed angles to Morne van Wyk. The 36-year-old wicketkeeper-batsman, who has yet to make the most of his recall, tried to pull out of the shot too late and sent an edge flying to slip.
Amla continued attacking even when Jimmy Neesham and Ish Sodhi tried to squeeze up the runs. They gave away 17 runs in six overs between the 12th and the 17th overs but Amla broke the shackles with three fours off Neesham’s fourth over, a cover drive off Sodhi in the next and a lofted shot over Nathan McCullum’s head in the over that followed. He kept the score moving even when he struggled to rotate the strike and urged Rossouw to show similar patience.
Both Amla and Rossouw flirted with danger. Rossouw was on 34 when he swatted Grant Elliott to deep square leg but Adam Milne misjudged. Amla was on 74 when he drove Colin Munro uppishly into the covers but Tom Latham could not hold on. The pair settled down after that, however. Amla let Rossouw take over as the aggressor as the end loomed. They scored 39 runs in the five overs between 35 and 40, including a single to fine leg off Elliott, which brought up Amla’s hundred off 109 balls.
Rossouw looked set for a century, too, but received a toe-crunching yorker from McClenaghan that tore the leg stump off just above its base and New Zealand worked their way into South Africa’s middle order. Milne removed AB de Villiers – holed out to deep midwicket – and Amla with a hint of reverse-swing and a deadly yorker, in the same over, and David Miller and Farhaan Behardien were left to provide a late acceleration. South Africa lost five wickets in the last six overs, but added 52 runs in that period, which proved the difference in the end.
McCullum, who along with Sodhi and Milne, was New Zealand’s best bowler on the night, was confident of pulling off the chase at the break even though the visitors had to use a makeshift opener in Luke Ronchi, after Martin Guptill injured his wrist in the field and could only bat later in the innings. The earliest sign, however, was not in their favour.
Dale Steyn should have had a wicket with his first ball, when Tom Latham flicked to square leg, and with his fourth, when Luke Ronchi edged to second slip. Eventually, he got one with his sixth when Ronchi was caught by Amla at first slip. Latham’s drop would prove costly – he went on to top-score with 60 – and shared in a 104-run stand with Kane Williamson which swung the advantage New Zealand’s way.
Apart from the first over, New Zealand were in control for the first one-third of their reply. Latham and Williamson saw off probing spells from Steyn and Vernon Philander, who stuck to the plan of bowling outside off, and only occasionally got them away. Kagiso Rabada and Imran Tahir kept the pressure on but Rabada gave a little more away when he veered down the leg side or went short. Relief for New Zealand came with the introduction of David Wiese.
Wiese struggled for rhythm, and bowled two lengths and from both sides of the wicket to allow the Latham-Williamson partnership to grow. It had just reached worrying levels when Tahir struck. He had fed Williamson a full toss with the first delivery of his fifth over but Williamson missed out and wanted to cash in on the next ball. His inside-out cover drive reached Dean Elgar, the substitute fielder, who took the best catch on the night, stretching up and collecting over his head.
Guptill batted at No. 4 and should have been out off the sixth ball he faced when he poked at a Rabada delivery but Wiese spilled it at slip. Guptill made Wiese pay even more when he tore into his fourth over and punished the full ball, but the bowler had the last laugh getting Guptill out for 25 with a slower ball.
The chase seemed stubbed out in the 30th over, when Philander had Grant Elliot caught at third man and Latham trapped lbw, but South Africa drifted. Jimmy Neesham and Colin Munro crept closer to the target with a sixth-wicket stand of 71 studded with aerial shots that fell into vacant spaces. Eventually one did not – Neesham’s top edge went to van Wyk’s hand and New Zealand unravelled. Their last five wickets fell for 55 runs. South Africa wrapped up victory with 11 balls to spare, a better measure of the gulf between the two sides than the 20-run margin which seemed to suggest the match was closer than it actually was.
(Taken from ESPN Sports Media Ltd.)