SA in New Zealand

Go for the jugular, Proteas!

2012-02-29 12:43
Morne Morkel (Gallo)

Cape Town – New Zealand’s cricketing underdogs, who like to see themselves as snapping bull terriers a lot of the time, have been turned to a box of shivering puppies.

GALLERY: SA clinch NZ ODI series

The Proteas made it four wins on the trot against the Black Caps in Napier on Wednesday, crushing the host nation by six wickets with more than 11 overs to spare to secure the one-day international series with one to play in Auckland on Saturday.

Really encouragingly, South Africa have won both of the first two ODIs by the same margins statistically, and employing pretty similar degrees of ruthlessness.

These results follow successive wins in the Twenty20 series, where AB de Villiers’s team were well less convincing but did well, nevertheless, to snatch the spoils from 1-0 down.

There is only injured pride to play for by the New Zealanders now, when the dead-rubber ODI takes place at Eden Park -- the pitch there has even more pace and bounce than the Proteas revelled in at McLean Park.

Whatever happens in the final game, South Africa have gone a long way to burying the hurt from the last time they played an ODI series in that country: they were walloped 5-1 in 2003/04.

But they are on track for a particularly satisfying and reasonably rare series clean sweep against a side other than truest minnows Zimbabwe, Bangladesh and Kenya.

Judging by the immediate post-match television interviews, the Proteas are keen to atone for failing to sustain the stranglehold they had on most recent prior ODI opponents Sri Lanka, whom they beat only 3-2 from an unassailable 3-0 position.

De Villiers conceded that losing those last two matches against the Lankans had been an “anti-climax” while Lonwabo Tsotsobe, one of the seam-bowling architects of the handsome Napier win, spoke of “not wanting to take our foot off the pedal here”.

Defeated captain Brendon McCullum, who sounds progressively more dispirited as the limited-overs portion of the tour progresses, admitted that South Africa had “ripped the heart out of us in the middle stage (of the NZ innings) ... this was definitely a 300 wicket”.

Instead the Black Caps imploded from a powerful position of 131 at the fall of their second wicket, just ahead of the 25-over mark, to a chronically deficient 230 all out with two and a half remaining overs effectively wasted.

It was another example of greatly improving cool-headedness and composure by the Proteas, seemingly showing promising general fruits now from Gary Kirsten’s roughly five-month tenure as head coach.

McCullum was just one of a few well-set Black Caps batsmen to give his wicket away through rashness – much of it induced, you suspect, by the sustained high pace and aggression of the South African attack – and then the New Zealand tail-enders didn’t show too much relish in getting into line against the fired-up likes of Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel.

The latter, who simply confirmed his lofty status as a top-fiver in the ODI bowling rankings, would have been chuffed to earn a maiden five-wicket haul in the format: he has achieved four on six previous occasions, his best analysis in 53 appearances ahead of Napier having been the four for 10 he landed against Sri Lanka at Paarl just a few weeks ago.

If Morkel is an ever-improving element of South Africa’s intimidatory arsenal, the Black Caps suddenly have some problematic issues, by contrast, involving their own intended “enforcers” with the Test series very close.

Tim Southee, for instance, often has lots to say to batsmen -- very little of it complimentary – but his bark is currently not being matched by a bite: the fast-medium bowler has been punished for 125 runs in 18 overs by South African stroke-players over the course of the two ODIs, with only one scalp to show for his toil.

And if the New Zealanders are going to be stripped of their in-your-face habit, the vulnerabilities they have in personnel terms against stronger countries only appear likely to become more apparent.

As if to add to their woes, Hashim Amla, one component of the purring South African machine not previously to have got a genuine “big ‘un” on tour, found his groove with an innings of 92 off 107 balls, despite probably still feeling the effects of a cold.

Former national captain Kepler Wessels believes the Proteas may well rest Steyn and Morkel from the last ODI now to prepare them properly for the first Test, starting in Dunedin next Wednesday.

South African fans must be hoping such a move would not prevent the side from keeping their collective grip on the Kiwi throat ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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