This was an upset, and yet another match to remember in what is turning out to be amongst the most exciting World Cups ever.
South Africa has, through most of its history, depended on their pace bowlers for firepower. With a team always packed with medium and fast bowlers, the spinners were mostly fillers to add a little variety to the uneventful middle overs.
But this World Cup, they haven’t shied from innovating and mixing up their bowling to dominate the batting sides. Their top wicket-takers are two spinners (a leg-spinner and a slow left arm bowler) and they have sufficient world quality pace to back the two up.
So it was no surprise that Robin Peterson, the slow left arm bowler, opened the bowling and was quickly rewarded. New Zealand has sputtered through most of its campaign, with only a blitzkrieg by Ross Taylor getting them to an important victory against Pakistan.
He and Jesse Ryder got into the rescue act once again, but failed to deceive. South Africa juggled every possible type of bowler they possessed, and managed to restrict the mediocre New Zealand to a low score. To restrict Taylor and Ryder was more than half the battle won, and yet South Africa somehow lost. It was strange and pitiful.
It started with South Africa’s Hashim Amla getting out in one of the freakiest dismissals of this World Cup, of the foot of the wicketkeeper to the slip. But sensible batting by the men in form, Jacques Kallis and AB De Villiers seemed to suggest a comfortable victory.
So did they ‘”choke” again? New Zealand seemed out of the match when Kallis and De Villiers were at the crease, and then Kallis got out. The Kiwis might just have sensed that they were in it, and a run-out later, the Kiwis were at their aggressive best. South Africa crumbled against some great fielding and disciplined bowling. But it really wasn’t about the bowling and fielding; it was more about withstanding the pressure. New Zealand cranked the pressure up and South Africa wilted like they have done time and again.
The presence of John Wright, one of the greatest coaches in the world and Alan Donald as the bowling coach had worked wonders for New Zealand. Alan Donald is evidence of how useful aggression is against any opposition. New Zealand played as a team, and played to their strengths, which is fielding and discipline, with a lot of brutal aggression thrown in. Daniel Vettori was back and he marshaled his troops well, once he saw a way back into the game.
And it was a rather imperfect and tragic end to what seemed to be another great start to a campaign by South Africa. The contenders go back early once again, and New Zealand continues to punch above its weight in the World Cup. The demons of the last few months have been forgotten.
Tomorrow we wait for the last of the semifinalists to see if New Zealand shall take on either England or Sri Lanka.