South Africa edges closer to elimination after second successive loss in the Super Eights
For four overs, with Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel firing on all cylinders and putting David Warner and Shane Watson through the wringer, this appeared to be shaping up into a classic.
Morkel accounted for Warner, trying to shed the shackles and bowled middle-stump, but Watson survived that testing period, with great pluck and a little bit of luck. Then, normal service was restored as Australia blasted past South Africa to all but nail down a semi-final spot in the ICC World Twenty20 2012.
South Africa’s 146 for 5, possible only because of an entertaining, innovative cameo right at the end from Robin Peterson, looked competitive enough with Steyn and Morkel on song, but once Watson stepped on the accelerator, there was only one team in the Group 2 Super Eights match at the R Premadasa Stadium.
Continuing his phenomenal run, Watson completed his third half-century in four innings and set up Australia’s eight-wicket victory, the fourth successive time in the competition Australia had scaled a target down. Watson – at once the leading run-scorer and wicket-taker in this competition – quietly played out Steyn and Morkel, beaten once by a beauty from Steyn that shaped away at pace and just missed his outside edge, but once Jacques Kallis came on in the fifth over, he rediscovered his mojo.
Kallis’s first ball, short and wide, was crashed through point for the innings’s first four, in the fifth over. Morkel, kept on for an over too long, was smashed for three fours in the next and suddenly, the balance of power had shifted irrevocably.
AB de Villiers brought on his spinners immediately after the Power Play, but there was no joy for either Johan Botha or Peterson. When Watson flexes his muscles and lets it fly, no ground in the world is large enough to contain him, and while he only struck two sixes, fours cascaded from his bat with such regularity that the result was a foregone conclusion long before he was dismissed, for a bruising 70, which brought him a fourth Man of the Match award on the bounce.
It’s debatable if the outcome would have been any different had Wayne Parnell, drafted in for Albie Morkel, held on to a catch at long-off off Peterson when Watson was on 52. By the time he tonked the same bowler down the same fielder’s throat, he had added 99 for the second wicket with Mike Hussey and again ensured that the middle-order didn’t have too much to do. South Africa was unrecognisable, very different from the sprightly, impeccable fielding unit it generally is. There were misfields galore, dropped catches and a missed stumping. This was another poor day in office for South Africa, for whom the exit sign now clearly looms large.
Xavier Doherty, playing his first match of the competition, had been Australia’s bowling hero alongside Watson, not only keeping the South Africans quiet at the start but also accounting for Richard Levi in the first over and Kallis in his next.
Its top order blown away for the second straight game, South Africa was tied down by Australia’s unrelenting accuracy. Doherty, the left-arm spinner brought in for Daniel Christian, sent Levi on his way with a straight delivery which skidded through, then defeated Kallis’s defensive poke with a ball that turned on pitching and found the outside edge on its way to Matthew Wade behind the stumps. Any designs South Africa might have had of getting off to a blistering start emphatically thwarted, it was again left to play catch up.
Australia was spot-on through both spin and its assortment of pace options, and when Watson dismissed Hashim Amla with a bouncer that arrived long after the batsman was through with his shot, South Africa fell further behind.
Unlike in the previous game when he pushed himself down to No. 6, de Villiers came in at No. 5, but South Africa’s captain never found any fluency, forcing Jean-Paul Duminy to both hold fort and get the scoreboard moving.
It was a task that proved beyond Duminy, outfoxed by Doherty returning for a second spell. Seeing Duminy give him the charge, Doherty fired one wide down the leg-side. Duminy’s attempt to keep the ball out with his pads falling flat on its face as the ball crept through between his pads to set up a smart stumping for Matthew Wade.
When Watson put de Villiers out of his misery, South Africa was 86 for 5 with 35 deliveries left, and looking at a total of no more than 120. Farhaan Behardien, rated very highly back home, and Peterson gave them some hope with a superb rearguard action.
Behardien was largely the nudger and pusher, while Peterson was outstanding not just with his choice of outrageous shots but the brilliance with which he executed them. Faced with a challenge of sorts, Australia’s bowling went to pieces. Brad Hogg was the first to feel the heat, but it was Pat Cummins and Mitchell Starc, the two young quicks, who suffered the most. The last two overs produced 28 as the sixth-wicket pair put on 60 and South Africa left the field the happier of the two teams. An hour and a half and another Watson special later, all that had changed completely.