In an earlier post , I’d tapped New Zealand as the only side with no chance of progressing. Boy , did they prove me wrong with their amazing upset of South Africa , whom many ( including me ) had thought would win it all. Even now , many fans must be in a state of disbelief over how it all panned out . For three-quarters of the match , South Africa appeared to be in command . The Kiwis total of 221 was by no means imposing and the Proteas response began promisingly . Despite Amla’s freak dismissal and Graeme Smith’s departure ,South Africa seemed firmly in command of the match at 108 for 2. Jacques Kallis and A. B. de Villiers were batting fluently and the asking rate was less than 5 an over. Then Tim Southee fired a shortpitched ball to Kallis who walloped it for what looked like a certain six … only for the 6′-6″ Jacob Oram to run a long way almost at the boundary line and use every inch of his height to grab a stunning catch. At the time it didn’t seem like a turning point and I’ve no patience with those who criticise Kallis in going for 6 when he could have safely kept the ball on the ground and got a 4. With the in- form de Villiers at the wicket , Kallis’ departure seemed like a minor hiccup . What followed was a tragicomedy of errors as Duminy played a horrible shot , missed athe ball completely and saw his off stump uprooted , de Villiers was run out because of an inexplicable misunderstanding with du Plessis, and the rest went down like a house of cards. Earlier SA had bowled well and fielded to restrict NZ to 221 . It all went for nought as their batting disintegrated with the last 8 wickets falling for 64 runs. I am delighted for NZ , a country of only 4.5 million , which now finds itself in the semis . SA did “choke” but credit should also go to the Kiwis whose fielding was otherworldly as they mounted pressure on the SA batsmen throughout.
Kudos to New Zealand for a magnificent victory but spare a thought for the Proteas ; the ” Choker ” tag will be hung on them for a long time to come . I see that Graeme Smith is stepping down as captain and perhaps it is time for a change but this was a team collapse . They will be in re-building mode , like Australia , but unlike the latter, they already have a core of good young players that they can build around. Amla, De Villiers, Steyn,du Plessis, Duminy and Morkel are all around 27 and Smith at 30 has a lot of good cricket left in him . It is a pity he wasn’t able to take South Africa all the way to the top though he came mighty close.
Like Smith , Ricky Ponting will be stepping down but he has nothing to reproach himself with as he looks back on his last match as captain. His steadfast century got Australia to a modest total of 260 , one which gave them a fighting chance . At 187 for 5 , India were in a precarious position , but an assured Yuvraj Singh and a determined Suresh Raina stood firm and knocked off the required runs for a commendable victory . Their stand was reminiscent of the heroics of Yuvraj and Mohammed Kaif in the NatWest final in 2002. I’m glad to see Raina back in the team at the expense of Yusuf Pathan whose big hitting is better suited for the T20 format. Yusuf is a liability in the field too where as Raina is an excellent fielder. I’m glad also to see Ashwin in the fold as India go with two spinners . Nehra ( after he gave away 14 -runs in the last over of the loss to SA) and Sreesanth ( after his horrendous ,undisciplined bowling in the first match against Bangladesh) deserve to be permanently mothballed. The India- Pakistan match at Mohali should be ” the mother of all battles ‘ to paraphrase the words of a certain Iraqi dictator and I await it with a mixture of exhilaration and trepidation .
The other two quarterfinals, both 10 -wicket victories, were notable only for their one-sidedness. Pakistan’s trouncing of the West Indies was not a complete surprise as the Windies had been pathetic in the group play stage. The Pakistani bowling was outstanding and the batting adequate. To me a big surprise has been Shahid Afridi’s captaincy . Who’d have thought th at the one-time free spirit would be so effective as a skipper?
Sri Lanka’s demolition of England was , however , very unexpected . England’s total of 229 was hardly imposing but I never thought that the Sri Lankan openers , Tharanga and Dilshan , would be able to overhaul it without breaking a sweat. Sri Lanka look to be in ominous form and they are playing on their home ground but as the Kiwis proved in the quarterfinals you cannot write off any one . I’m done with prognosticating !
If you haven’t read Andy Zaltzman’s columns on Cricinfo, you are missing a treat. Zaltzman is a keen observer of the game and is a genuinely funny man . His comment about Virat Kohli’s bowling action (” …it appears that the young man is attempting to simultaneously bowl and change his shirt.”) had me in stitches. Go to Cricinfo and ” On the road with Zaltzman “. You will be glad you did .