It’s not a train smash

2012-02-18 00:00

CAPE TOWN — There is still no stellar Richard Hadlee or Glenn Turner in their midst, but as a collective New Zealand’s modern cricket team remain a bunch of uniquely spirited street fighters.

Defeat in a T20 international seldom represents a train smash, but the Black Caps can claim, nevertheless, to have fired a daunting shot across the Proteas’ bows by winning the first of three contests in this code fairly convincingly in Wellington yesterday.

In doing so they also served notice that their knack of getting under their opponents’ skin is undiminished. Whatever happens over the remainder of the three-course tour menu, we are in for an enthralling few weeks, it appears.

The match went into the last over, which is at least a healthy sign that South Africa never really surrendered their competitiveness.

New Zealand sent the tourists in, and with feisty captain and wicketkeeper Brendon McCullum immediately up at the stumps and his brother opening the attack with his off-spin, it was akin to letting loose a pair of bulldogs on a bowl of mincemeat.

South Africa were quickly on the back foot and achieved solid momentum only sporadically for the remainder of the fixture.

Armed with their handy local knowledge, the home-nation TV commentators believed a minimum requirement batting first was 160 and they were almost on the button: the Proteas ended on 147 for six and had they just managed another 15 runs or so the outcome might have been different.

It’s true, South African top orders minus a certain Jacques Kallis (resting ahead the ODIs and Tests) do still offer a certain sense of fallibility, and at number three the left-handed Colin Ingram again looked a touch over-eager to sparkle, to his very rapid detriment.

But at the same time any other batting options are limited: the men among the 14-strong squad who did not turn out at the Westpac Stadium were bowlers Robin Peterson, Wayne Parnell and Marchant de Lange.

One bright development in the otherwise unremarkable SA knock was the fact that the middle-order player to effectively start their engine belatedly, after taking guard under unfavourable circumstances, was Justin Ontong.

The Cape Cobras batsman and occasional all-rounder has often been accused in the past, after all, of just being “too nice” and when he entered the battle the chirpy Black Caps were all over South Africa like the proverbial rash.

So for him to seize the initiative for a while — smacking a timely 32 off 17 balls, including a juicy salvo of sixes and posting a 50-run stand with senior partner JP Duminy — was clear evidence of the stiffened resolve he apparently now boasts to go with his undoubted talent.

While it was probably true that SA were made to rue not adding Peterson to their specialists spin arsenal on the night, the general bowling effort in defence of a modest total could not be faulted in any great way.

There were encouraging levels of fire from Morne Morkel and Rusty Theron. The lanky Morkel ripped through two deliveries in one over timed at 150 km/h. Theron is inclined, arguably, to overdue that specialist delivery he has, full-pitched and speared in at leg-stump; it makes him vulnerable to glances for four and wides as well.

So when he wisely resorted to a bouncer once against Guptill, he surprised the batsman and delivered him a resounding whack to the helmet. It was a handy little mental note for the Proteas pacemen to bank against this astonishingly in-the-groove player.

If a New Zealand opener was going to bat through, as Guptill did, there was really only going to be one winning side, and he hit some formidably long and high balls en route to his man-of-the-match 78 not out off 55 balls, including one unceremonious heave on to the rugby venue’s roof off Lonwabo Tsotsobe.

South Africa will hope that, in Guptill’s case, the theory that form is temporary in cricket pays dividends for them sooner rather than later.

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