Sooner or later, a team batting second under the Newlands floodlights will prevail. On a sun-drenched afternoon yesterday, with Table Mountain overlooking the ground against a cloudless sky and on the most sedate of pitches, AB De Villiers went some way in attempting to make sure that it would be later.
He scored a blisteringly seamless hundred for South Africa in the third one-day international, and if it was assisted by an assortment of bowling that could not come to terms with the benign surface, that barely diminished it. De Villiers was relentless in his determination to keep the scoring rate above a run-a-ball.
De Villiers’ success in doing so was marked less by his 14 fours in an innings of 121 than by the statistic that he scored 37 singles and failed to score from only 20 of his 85 balls. It required peak fitness as well as an ability to find the gaps in the field.
South Africa’s total of 354 for 6 was the joint-highest in a one-day match at Newlands and went far beyond its reputation of favouring the side defending a total. After De Villiers had finished, abetted by a spurt in the closing overs, it meant that England would need to break the record winning score under lights anywhere.
The destiny of the match was not quite decided by the flip of a coin 30 minutes before it began but when Andrew Strauss called wrongly, allowing Graeme Smith to decide what to do for the seventh consecutive match on the ground, it did not exactly prompt many pundits to make a cast-iron case for the tourists’ prospects of taking an unassailable 2-0 lead in the series.
South Africa, with much to prove to both themselves and their supporters after their perfunctory performance at Centurion five days earlier, came out swinging from the hip. After five overs they had scored 63 and at various points thereafter a total of 400 looked feasible.
Smith and Hashim Amla gave the home side – and they must feel like Cape Town is their home from home considering their astonishing record of 24 wins in 27 matches – a corking start. Smith was at his most intimidating, driving down the ground and making room by moving both sides of the crease as the bowler ran in.
Amla was less brutal but no less effective and England, with the pitch offering no help, ran short of ideas quickly. They postponed the second power play and introduced Graeme Swann, returning to the side after his side strain, and his off spin at least quietened matters.
Smith’s dismissal, which had seemed improbable until he stepped away against Luke Wright and dragged a flailing drive on to his stumps, brought in De Villiers. He eased himself into the game immediately and never let up. He ran the legs off England without ever seeming to hurry.
In its composure and command there was something of Ricky Ponting about it. Amla went for his second half-century of the series and J-P Duminy followed to ensure that not all of South Afica’s middle order would stamp their initials on the match.
With De Villiers and Alviro Petersen together, however, South Africa rattled along once more and enjoyed the width that England’s bowlers gave them. They put on 95 in 62 balls and England’s finest, Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad, who was also coming back from injury, were picked off as easily as anybody else. De Villiers eventually lofted a drive to cover with four overs left. It was his fourth one-day century, his first for two years and the third quickest by a South Africa batsman.
Broad finished with four wickets which hardly constituted pegging back the South Africans, although it was the sixth time he had done so in a one-day innings.
As they had promised, England came out blazing away in their reply, and declared their intent by opening the batting with Wright. But they did not quite get going as they might have liked and the absence of a major innings at the top of the order told its own story.
Source: The Independent – November 28, 2009 / STEPHEN BRENKLEY