Power-packed Proteas march on against Black Caps

When it comes to these two sides facing each other, it has been a one-sided contest since the Proteas won the fixture in 1999.
Van der Dussen in action against New Zealand.
Van der Dussen in action against New Zealand.

PUNE:  Since 1999, cricket and rugby World Cups have been organised in the same year. Which means the nations that fall in the Venn diagram of Rugby and Cricket, like Australia, England, New Zealand and South Africa, have been through an emotional turmoil twice a year every four years.

Incidentally, one of these four countries has lifted the Webb Ellis Cup since 1999. However, the same thing cannot be said for the Cricket World Cup. For South Africa and New Zealand especially, the cricketing Gods have not been that kind.

When it comes to these two sides facing each other, it has been a one-sided contest since the Proteas won the fixture in 1999. So, when South Africa finally got the opportunity to put an end to that WC streak of New Zealand against them, they took it with both hands.

It started with New Zealand winning the toss because it put Tom Latham in a tricky situation - if they bat first, the Kiwis don't get to make most of the pitch that gets easier to bat under the lights. Such has been the batting form of the South African top-order that inviting them to bat first was like inviting a monster attack. Latham chose the lesser evil as the record of the Maharashtra Cricket Association Stadium in Pune suggests that teams have struggled to get past 250 in the first innings and hoped the dew could lay the helping hand.

At one point, it felt like a genius decision when Daryl Mitchell caught Temba Bavuma in the second slip early in the innings. That joy couldn't last longer as Quinton de Kock and Rassie van der Dussen's methodical assault slowly took the game away from the Black Caps. Till the 20th over, the duo did not take any unnecessary risks, while kept the strike rotation going.

By the time, Latham introduced Rachin Ravindra, De Kock was ready to pounce as he smashed a six and a four to reach another half-century in the tournament. Even when van der Dussen was finding it hard to get going it was de Kock who kept the innings going for South Africa, while also helping out the struggling batter at the other end. At the end of the 20th over run rate got past 5 RPO and the duo decided to change the gears. Neither Ravindra, Glenn Phillips or Tim Southee, playing his first match, could break the partnership as South Africa amassed 61 runs between 21st and 30th over. The foundation was set at 155 for one after 30 overs. And partnership between the two set batters continued to swell and van der Dussen also matched the opener with a half-century of his own.

"He really guided me through my innings today. At times, I was under pressure and I was asking him about a few options and just to sort of soundboard with him out in the middle. He's such a cool and calm guy out there, and thinks so clearly. It was just great to bat with him," van der Dussen applauded the senior batter's temperament.

De Kock continued his dominance with the bat by smashing his fourth century of the tournament, while the Proteas added a whopping 83 runs between 31st and 40th over. Knowing how the Bavuma-led side had destroyed the opposition bowlers in the death overs, it was a monumental challenge for New Zealand to get their radar right in the final 10 overs, but unfortunately with the hamstring injury to Matt Henry, all the plans went flying.

Van der Dussen completed his ton, smashed Jimmy Neesham for 20 runs in an over, and continued to be aggressive while pouncing on the slightest mistakes made by the Kiwi bowlers. Once that part got over for the Player of the Match, the usual death over hitters in David Miller and Heinrich Klaasen took over and the same script continued for South Africa as their record of scoring at least 300 runs, batting first. "If you don't take wickets, guys will score big against you. And for us as a top order, it's finding that balance between being attacking and scoring runs and also setting the base up for the middle order to come in," Van der Dussen simplified the South African approach.

For the South African top-order, it's the embodiment of the saying from the old gospel music tradition: “Start low, go slow. Rise higher, catch fire." So far it has worked perfectly for them, but new challenges await them.

Brief scores: South Africa 357/4 in 50 ovs (Rassie van der Dussen 133, Quinton de Kock 114, David Miller 53; Tim Southee 2/77) bt New Zealand 167 in 35.3 ovs (Glenn Phillips 60; Keshav Maharaj 4/46, Marco Jansen 3/31).

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The New Indian Express