TELFORD VICE at Eden Park
SELDOM have bowling and fielding units, even those as crack as South Africa’s, bowled and fielded as magnificently as they did in the deciding match of the one-day series here on Saturday.
Even fewer times, surely, have New Zealand, the flintiest side in this format, crumbled so abjectly in response.
So much so that the teams seemed to play differing matches within the same game, which ended in victory for the visitors by six wickets.
“We put a lot of pressure on New Zealand and got wickets at the right time, and we were on the money for the duration of our fielding session,” AB De Villiers said.
“It was a tricky total to chase but Faf and David made it quite easy at the the end.”
Faf du Plessis’ unbeaten 51 and David Miller’s 45 not out, and their stand of 62, righted an innings that had listed to 88/4 after 22 overs.
But, by then, the only contest was about beating the traffic out of the parking lot.
Having inserted their opponents on a pitch that harboured pace and bounce, South Africa frogmarched them back to the dugout for 149.
Only six teams have been dismissed for fewer in the first innings of the 76 ODIs played at Eden Park.
South Africa, their innings interrupted after six overs by the dinner break, replied with 150/4 to win with 17.4 overs to spare.
Of course, it was the bowlers wot won it, and that at a venue whose sawn off straight boundaries must skew the odds in the batting team’s favour.
Not on Saturday. Imran Tahir’s 2/14 represented the most economical bowling by a spinner in all 574 of South Africa’s ODIs.
Kagiso Rabada took 3/25 and ended the pre-match debate over whether Martin Guptill or AB de Villiers would have the greater impact on the match.
That was settled in the fifth over when Guptill, the leading runscorer at this ground, exposed all of his stumps as he advanced down the pitch to Rabada – the gun bowler of the series in terms of wickets, average and economy rate – and was yorked for four.
And that after slamming an undefeated 180 in Hamilton on Wednesday to level the series.
De Villiers walked to the wicket as the idol of previous matinees in the series, having scored more runs than anyone else and done so exponentially more audaciously.
This time he lifted sixes over long-on and midwicket, snagged a four off the edge and speared another down the ground.
But De Villiers was bounced out for 23 by a rasping delivery from Jimmy Neesham that took the glove on its way to the wicketkeeper.
Enter Miller to help Du Plessis take South Africa home emphatically.
Du Plessis nailed Trent Boult with a pull in front of square that screamed away for four to bring up 50 and end the match.
And with that, almost without pausing to savour their success, South Africa’s focus shifted to the Champions Trophy in England in June.
“It would be silly for me to say, ‘Yes, we are going to win it’,” De Villiers said.
“I believe that in my heart but no-one is going to make silly statements like that.”
Because, even after you have won your sixth ODI series in eight attempts, it’s what you do that counts. Not what you say.