Cape Town – The South African mean machine in one-day
international cricket rumbled to another thoroughly laudable series win at Eden
Park on Saturday.
By doing so (3-2) against hosts New Zealand, who had won all
of their last eight home series in the format, the Proteas simultaneously went
some way to locking in the shed the bitter memories of their 2015 World Cup
semi-final exit to the same foes at the Auckland venue.
There were some flutters in the upper regions of the order, en
route to a humble target of 150 in the decisive fifth contest, but eventually
the job was done in emphatic style by six wickets, with a calm-as-you-like Faf
du Plessis and more adrenaline-driven David Miller completing the highly
satisfying victory with almost 18 overs to spare.
Once again, people should not undervalue the significance of
this latest conquest in a season positively laden with them for the Proteas.
The Black Caps, since their last home ODI series reverse to
the very same foes in the lead-up to CWC 2015, had beaten the following sides
in bilateral series in New Zealand: Australia (three times), Pakistan and Sri
Lanka (twice each) and Bangladesh once.
This series triumph also meant South Africa have cleaned up,
in their 2016/17 ODI roster, Ireland (1-0), Australia (5-0), Sri Lanka (5-0)
and now Kane Williamson’s troops 3-2 … that is 14 victories from 16 encounters
for a win percentage rate of 87.50.
It was also the fourth time in a row, when a series has come
down to a final-match decider, that the Proteas have been the ones to clinch
the laurels, adding to prior achievements of that nature against England, India
and a previous series against NZ on our shores in the early spring of 2015.
That “chokers” label will inevitably still be thrown their
way as the calendar ticks down to another ICC multinational event – the
Champions Trophy in the UK in June – but it simply cannot be applied to these
men when it comes to bilateral series; quite the contrary, in fact.
On this tour so far, with just the three-Test series yet to
come, the Proteas have particularly revelled in the limited-overs
internationals played at rugby stadiums with their drop-in pitches and often
steep bounce, some seam movement and good carry.
They beat the Black Caps every bit as emphatically in the
lone Twenty20 international at Eden Park on February 17 – routing them for 107
with Imran Tahir and Andile Phehlukwayo bagging eight scalps between them – and
then enjoyed Westpac Stadium in Wellington no less at all for the third ODI,
where New Zealand were skittled for 112, chasing 272.
The writing was all but on the wall after the hosts’ innings
in Saturday’s clincher, as they flopped to 149 all out (41.1 overs, so almost
nine frittered away) on a pitch that had its challenges – some bouncers from
both teams were real snorters – but should probably still have seen the side
taking first strike amass something more like 250 at least.
An often venomous Kagiso Rabada, who ended up being
player-of-the-match for his 3/25, quickly had the New Zealanders on the back
foot when he rattled the base of Martin Guptill’s leg-stump with a swinging,
yorker-length delivery for just four – 176 runs shy, of course, of his epic 180
not out in game four at Hamilton.
It was a blow from which the home side never properly
recovered, hardly helped by the fact that the purposeful SA pace battery
weren’t the lone architects of their misery.
There were two sublime run-outs sparked by wondrous scoop-up-and-throw
work from AB de Villiers and JP Duminy respectively, whilst evergreen Tahir
registered the most economical 10-over spell by a South African spin bowler in
ODI history with his figures of two for 14 and concession of not a single
Tahir’s previous cheapest analysis for a completed spell in
the format was the 26 runs he gave away against Sri Lanka at Port Elizabeth
just a few weeks ago.
The thriftiest stint on record for 10 overs by any South
African bowler remains Shaun Pollock’s 10-4-9-1 against Pakistan at Rawalpindi
in October 2003.
South Africa have no further ODI obligations from now until
late May, when they very usefully tackle England away in a three-game series to
tune up on perfect terrain for the Champions Trophy.
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