Affies boys break NZ hearts
Comment: Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town – Faf du Plessis fired a big “I’m here to stay” message as South Africa, from a once-precarious position, admirably whipped New Zealand in the first one-day international at Wellington on Saturday.
The truest star of the day was run-a-ball century-maker AB de Villiers, looking more and more assured in the treble role of captain, batsman and wicketkeeper ... but you can almost take for granted his excellence in the ODI format these days, can’t you?
De Villiers’s last three knocks, in order of business, have yielded scores of 96 (Kimberley) and 125 not out (Johannesburg) against Sri Lanka, and now 106 not out against a Black Caps side put firmly in their places after being typically gutsy for three-quarters of the contest.
Considering that the prior two knocks both came in losing causes, admittedly despite dead-rubber status, De Villiers would have been chuffed in the latest instance that he played a massive role in actually powering his country over the line.
The Proteas, also buoyed by snatching the Twenty20 spoils just three days earlier, now have an early chance to close out the three-match ODI series in Napier on Wednesday (03:00 SA time).
It was a case of superior class coming home to roost, and the best indicator of that was how the South Africans -- increasingly mentally assured under the Gary Kirsten regime, it seems – won with all of 28 deliveries to spare from a decidedly ropey 35 for three in pursuit of 254.
Two partnerships ensured the happy turnaround, the first between De Villiers and JP Duminy, who posted a necessary, restorative 90 for the fourth wicket.
Duminy was well below his best for fluency, with an old difficulty against off-spin sometimes evident once more, but still showed commendable staying power during his 46.
Perhaps people forget how consistent a performer he has become in the middle order: he has only genuinely “failed” once in his last eight ODI innings.
But the cherry on top for South Africa was the sparkling unbroken alliance of 129 between De Villiers and Du Plessis, two products of “Affies”, that Pretoria school increasingly noteworthy as a conveyor belt in unearthing world-class cricketers.
The pair are separated only by some five months age-wise, with the older De Villiers having turned 28 earlier this month, but it was a memorable schoolboy “reunion” for them at the Cake Tin nevertheless.
There was still plenty to be done when Du Plessis joined his skipper in the middle, but the manner in which he established personal momentum from the outset was an eye-opening development.
He never stepped off the pedal as he amassed a scorching 66 not out off 49 balls, and this was arguably the most definitive of his 18 ODI knocks.
That takes into account that previous half-centuries (he now sports four) have included a knock of 60 on debut against India at Newlands, and also more recently a man-of-the-match 72 in South Africa’s slightly fortuitous victory over the Lankans in Bloemfontein by Duckworth/Lewis method when rain intervened at a ding-dong time.
No wonder seasoned New Zealand commentator and ex-international wicketkeeper Ian Smith was moved to say: “He is an excitement machine”.
Lauding the remarkable stealth of their match-winning stand, he also noted: “These two have combined sensationally.”
Music to all Affies pupils and products’ ears, I’m sure.
The Proteas’ earlier intensity in the field also played an advantageous role in their win: there was strong aggression and skill from Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel and the discipline of Lonwabo Tsotsobe and left-arm spinner Robin Peterson, who found some turn, only enhanced the brew.
Peterson was also responsible for a brilliant outfield catch to dispose of the dangerous Brendon McCullum for 56, justifying his inclusion ahead of Johan Botha as main slow bowler on the day – it cannot ever be an easy call to make and hopefully they will get further game-time together down the line.
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