Report by Neil Robinson 05/07/03
Dear Lord, these ODI Tri Series don’t half drag on! Game six of the NatWest Series, game nine of the summer, nine in nineteen days as it happens and it’s all getting to be a bit much. I mean, do they never stop? On and on the limited overs circus seems to go, hardly ever stopping for a breather. The TV companies and advertisers clamour for them to fill up their schedules and their bank accounts while players and fans are left feeling dizzy and exhausted. Time was when the three match Texaco Trophy in May, would whet our appetites nicely for the summer of Test cricket to come, but nowadays the surfeit has become so much it’s almost enough to make you wish for the football season to come round again. Player burn out is already evident, soon spectator burn out may be too and the goose that laid the golden egg won’t even be good for foie gras. As for the tournaments themselves, they provide the odd highlight, the odd close finish or individual feat, but when it comes down to it, does the result really matter? Does anybody really care?
Judging from the sparse crowd of barely 3,000 at the pretty Sophia Gardens ground, few people in Cardiff cared much about this Zimbabwe v South Africa contest. A cheery band of ex-pats and visitors from Southern Africa tried their best to cheer us all up, but the heavy clouds, cool air and limp atmosphere were matched by some limp cricket in a dull, one-sided contest which South Africa won with more than 15 overs to spare, bagging the extra bonus point which should assure their place in the final.
In tough conditions for batting and against disciplined South African bowling, the Zimbabwe innings never really got going. They lost early wickets, then they lost some more and it was only a fighting innings of 54 from captain Heath Streak, that gave their score any respectability. Streak too had to ride his luck at first, but came through with determination to add 52 with Sean Ervine, then another 23 with Andy Blignaut before he found himself on the wrong end of a Jacques Kallis yorker. There were still a few overs left for Zimbabwe to creep closer to 200, but Blignaut and Ray Price fluffed them, losing the chance to pick up singles by aiming for and missing too many big shots. The final tally of 174 for 8, although a fair recovery from 92 for 6, was never going to be enough.
It was another fine bowling performance by South Africa, led once more by the accuracy and swing of Shaun Pollock and the zip and bounce of Makhaya Ntini. This time though, the back-up bowling was just as impressive. Kallis returned to bowl a full hand of 10 overs, taking 3 for 47, while Paul “Gogga” Adams, recalled in place of Nicky Boje, went through his usual contortions, like a drunkard who’s bet his mates he can clip his toenails without bending his knees, to produce a spell of textbook accuracy and flight. Adams, who has a bowling action often described as being like a “frog in a blender” has to be seen to be believed.
Zimbabwe, now needed early wickets. They might have had them too. Herschelle Gibbs may have been lucky to escape a shout for caught behind early on, not much later he was bowled by a Blignaut no-ball. In between there was a big shout for lbw against Smith which could easily have been given, but it just wasn’t Zimbabwe’s day. Their shoulders slumped, their fielding became scrappy and it was clear their thoughts were already on the bus to Bristol where they meet England tomorrow.
The two South African openers, both struggling with their form, played within themselves and crept ever closer both to the total and to some sort of fluency. They looked like staying there until the end, but Smith nicked Ervine to the keeper with only 21 remaining. That was just after one of the few really memorable strokes of the day, Gibbs leaning back to uppercut a huge six to bring up the 150. He ended on 93 not out, looking as though he might just have played himself back into form.
Long before the end, an air of inevitability and going through the motions took over. The BBC Radio commentary team digressed into a lengthy discussion about foreign versions of standard cricketing terms, leading to scores of emails pouring in from fans around the world who had long since given up this game as a bit of a yawner. One contribution, from a bored Abc of Cricket Correspondent, which revealed that the Swedish for ‘batsman’ is ‘slagman,’ went down particularly well with Angus Fraser. I knew that degree in Scandinavian Studies would come in useful one day.
Zimbabwe 174 for 8 (Streak 54, Kallis 3 for 47)
South Africa 175 for 1 (Gibbs 93*, Smith 58)
South Africa won by 9 wickets in 34.2 Overs
Man of the Match: