1st Final: New Zealand v South Africa at Melbourne, 6 Feb 2002|
New Zealand innings:
South Africa innings:
PROTEAS FLOOR BLACK CAPS IN LOPSIDED FINALGive away a bonus point, offer a team a berth in a finals series, and evidently media criticism, a small crowd, and an eight wicket hiding is all that New Zealand receives by way of thanks. Or at least that's the way it seems after South Africa's batsmen, bowlers and fielders all savaged the Black Caps to open up a 1-0 lead in the best-of-three VB Series deciders in Melbourne tonight.
It had lost three of its four previous matches against South Africa in the series and won only one of its last 16 games against the Proteas overall. And, today, New Zealand never really looked in the game either.
Lopsided as the contest may have been, though, there was plenty to appreciate in the performances of a number of the South Africans. The bowling of Makhaya Ntini (5/31) was outstanding; Shaun Pollock (1/30) and Lance Klusener (2/27) were also consistently threatening; and then Boeta Dippenaar (79*) and Jacques Kallis (59*) led not so much a chase of a victory target of 191 as a saunter.
The New Zealanders (the targets of criticism on both sides of the Tasman over recent days for their decision to give away a bonus point to South Africa in their previous match) had the opportunity to tilt the scales their way when captain Stephen Fleming enjoyed a victory at the toss.
But, while that outcome killed any prospect that they would be forced to chase another big South African total, it only hastened the emergence of further problems at the top of the New Zealand batting order.
Even before falling to early catches behind the wicket in the midst of Ntini's sizzling opening spell, openers Nathan Astle (9) and Lou Vincent (7) played with uncertainty. Only 15 runs were added in a first wicket partnership that extended a dismal run for the New Zealanders at the top of the order across the series as a whole.
Craig McMillan (73) and Fleming (50) rebuilt the innings with a partnership of 109 runs for the third wicket. But their stand was blessed more by patience than by power and there was never a real flow about New Zealand's exhibition.
As the strain of needing to accelerate the run scoring rate eventually impacted upon them, the Black Caps lost their way. Fleming, Andre Adams (13), Dion Nash (9) and Chris Cairns (0) all hit catches into the leg side while ambitiously attacking; McMillan and Shane Bond (1) badly misjudged singles to be run out; and Chris Harris (9) and Adam Parore (2) feathered from outside edges to the 'keeper.
Ntini rattled batsmen into error at both ends of the innings; Klusener collected two wickets in an over; and Pollock's trademark awareness of near-perfect line and length meant he was always at the batsmen.
Nevertheless, there was no great venom in the pitch and a number of the New Zealanders' wounds were self-inflicted.
They would have learnt a lesson about measured batting if they had closely watched Gary Kirsten (25) and Herschelle Gibbs (24) assemble their third half-century stand of the series in reply. Or Dippenaar and Kallis in their unbroken, risk-averse union of 139 runs.
Once the two openers had weathered the threat posed by Bond (0/21) and seen Nash (0/6) succumb to an abdominal muscle strain after only one over, the result was never in doubt.
Kirsten fell to a run out verdict that was unlucky on two counts - given that it was caused by a deflection back on to the stumps from bowler McMillan and that several replays were needed before it could be assumed that the veteran left hander's bat had merely reached rather than traversed the line of his crease as a bail was lifted.
But Dippenaar then looked contrastingly lucky to survive a caught behind decision as he drove inside the line of a Cairns (1/27) leg cutter with his score at just 6. With the New Zealanders needing even so much as half-chances to translate themselves into wickets, it was a decision that eliminated even the last signs of activity from a flickering pulse.
Dippenaar, who has been due good fortune all tour, was later dropped in the gully when he aimed a powerful cut toward Fleming with his total at 40. He capitalised on the two reprieves with magnificent driving to both sides of the wicket and disdainful punishment of short deliveries with some glorious horizontal-bat strokes.
Kallis, ever-composed, assisted in the cause in no small measure at the other end.
A crowd of only 20671 arrived all the while, producing the spectacle of vast banks of empty seats on a fine and sunny day and at least challenging the contention that sports-loving Melburnians will turn up in their droves to watch any international game.
With no bonus points on offer to help spark a contest, what the patrons saw was a remorseless performance.
After two quick setbacks reduced the Proteas to a mark of 2/52 early in the chase, the two stylish right handers have forged a sparkling unbroken partnership of 61 runs for the third wicket to edge their team to the brink of victory. Against an attack that has now featured as many as eight bowlers, Dippenaar (40*) has played some glorious attacking strokes - particularly when utilising a horizontally-angled bat - while Kallis (20*) has constructed a typically composed innings at the other end.
But, while there hasn't been too much doubt that the Proteas have continued to hold the upper hand for most of the match to date, the early stages of the South African innings have already featured at least two moments of controversy.
The first arrived in the 14th over when Gary Kirsten (25) was adjudged to be run out; the next came just three overs later when Dippenaar was awarded the benefit of the doubt as his opponents poured their energy into a huge caught behind appeal against him.
Kirsten ended on the wrong end of a decision from umpire Bob Parry when he attempted to slide his bat back into his crease after bowler Craig McMillan removed much of the pace from a Herschelle Gibbs (24) straight drive and deflected the ball into the non-striker's stumps. A series of replays presented Parry with a decision to make over whether Kirsten's bat had merely reached or traversed the line of the crease as a bail was lifted. He opted for the former verdict in a desperately close decision.
But, if Kirsten had cause to feel unlucky, then teammate Dippenaar experienced the opposite series of emotions just a matter of minutes later. With his own score at 6 - and with the South African total at 2/58 - Dippenaar found himself drawn into driving at an excellent leg cutter from Chris Cairns. Replays seemed to vindicate the voracity of an imploring caught behind appeal from the fielding team but umpire Daryl Harper insisted that he had heard no noise as the ball passed the outside edge.
In between those two testy moments for the teams and the umpires, Gibbs departed when he was lured into chasing a wider ball from Cairns and thin edging to wicketkeeper Adam Parore. Umpire Harper took his time to make the decision but there didn't appear too much doubt from either side about the validity of his verdict.
One of the features of this VB Series has been the fall of early wickets. But Gibbs and Kirsten have at least partially reversed the trend with the only half-century opening stands of the tournaments and now, at a critical time, they found a way to craft a third.
It was only when third umpire Bob Parry ruled in the favour of the fielding team after viewing several replays of a run out decision that the Kiwis severed the union. And, not for the first time this summer, they did so by contriving to produce the unluckiest kind of run out of all - a deflection of a Gibbs straight drive off bowler Craig McMillan's fingers connecting with the stumps at the bowler's end.
Umpire Parry analysed a number of replays before showing the Kirsten red light on the basis that his bat appeared to have been on the line of his crease as a bail was lifted. But it was a desperately close decision.
Until then, Gibbs and Kirsten had been in command. Moreover, they had lifted their team to a score of 0/51 without encountering any particular moments of anxiety along the way.
Gibbs has not always carried out his intent, occasionally playing and missing and not always finding the ball connecting with the middle of his bat as he has unfurled the pull stroke. But he has also hit some beautifully crisp strokes; moreover, he has played them to most parts of the ground to upset the New Zealanders' plans of restricting the scoring with Kirsten played a less aggressive innings but was no less effective.
Compounding the New Zealanders' woes all the while was the news that Dion Nash has strained an abdominal muscle and is unlikely to take any further part in the match. Nash bowled just one over in the innings before departing the field, suggesting that he is the worse for wear following a heavy tumble to the ground upon completing a scampering single while batting earlier in the day.
His teammates simply have to find a way of making breakthroughs, and need to do so with urgency. As bonus points in this particular encounter between South Africa and New Zealand are completely off limits, the game may well drift toward an unremarkable conclusion without them.
The boost that should have come from victory at the toss was quickly surrendered for the Kiwis as another of their first wicket partnerships proved short-lived. Openers Nathan Astle (9) and Lou Vincent (7) departed in quick succession after an unconvincing start, and all the early sway was held by the South Africans.
The bowling of Makhaya Ntini (5/31) and Shaun Pollock (1/30), in particular, was outstanding.
McMillan and Fleming were joined by as early as the eighth over and, though their stand was blessed more by patience than by power, they rebuilt the innings effectively.
As the strain of needing to accelerate the run scoring rate eventually impacted upon them, however, the innings again lost its way.
Fleming succumbed as he unsuccessfully tried to blast a delivery over mid on and miscued a high catch to mid wicket instead. Worse was awaiting his team only five deliveries later when Chris Cairns (0) attempted to slaughter a ball into the seating beyond the wide long on boundary. Cairns left it around 20 metres short of that target, however, and watched instead as Gary Kirsten ran hard to his right to complete an excellent overhead catch.
Lance Klusener (2/27) suddenly had two wickets in the space of an over and the favourable impression that the South African bowlers and fieldsmen had established at the start of the innings was now in the midst of being quickly re-affirmed.
Pollock seized the wicket of Chris Harris (9) - feathering off an outside edge to wicketkeeper Mark Boucher - almost immediately upon his return to the attack; McMillan was out to a gleeful direct hit run out from Herschelle Gibbs at mid wicket; and then Ntini returned to destructively mop up almost whatever was left.
Wickets in successive deliveries arrived as he lured Dion Nash (9) into a hook to long leg and drew Adam Parore (2) into playing off an outside edge to Boucher as pressed forward. To cap his best-ever performance at one-day international level, Ntini also soon had the scalp of Andre Adams (13) to add to a swelling collection, forcing the all-rounder into hitting a comfortable catch to deep square leg.
Just to re-emphasise the general pattern of the afternoon's proceedings, New Zealand's innings then met its end (with potentially as many as 13 deliveries still available) as Daniel Vettori (6*) and Shane Bond (1) savagely misjudged a sharp single to cover.
With the ball losing its shine and the pitch losing a touch of its early bounce, the two experienced batsmen have gradually been able to offset the effect of a brilliant start to the match from South African opening bowlers Makhaya Ntini and Shaun Pollock.
Fleming, showing trademark poise and elegance, has driven with control to both sides of the ground while McMillan has played predominantly behind the wicket, with several cuts behind point featuring.
A direct hit from cover point fieldsman Jonty Rhodes at the non-striker's end may have produced the run out of a scampering McMillan with his score at 34. Aside from that desperately close shave, though, New Zealand's third wicket partnership has largely been devoid of anxious moments.
The modus operandi of both players has been essentially to accumulate runs rather than flay the attack. Something of a stalemate has accordingly developed, with the South Africans prepared to allow the collection of singles while almost completely curtailing the sight of shots being hit to the boundary.
Therein, McMillan and Fleming have worked to establish a platform for a flurried assault later in the innings. With a reservoir of batting to come, the Black Caps' tactics may be causing consternation to some commentators but the position they are assuming is far from a poor one.
The crowd is gradually beginning to grow in size all the while but there remain vast empty banks of seats in a number of pockets around the ground.
On a sun-drenched MCG, the New Zealanders were handed the opportunity to make a great start when captain Stephen Fleming won the toss and gave his side the chance to bat first. But matters quickly soured.
The Black Caps were looking for their first big opening partnership of the series but were forced into producing no more than a sedate start. Most of their few early runs arrived from little other than pushes and glides to third man. Meanwhile, a number of defensive strokes portrayed evidence of uncertainty.
It wasn't until Nathan Astle (9) launched into a classical drive to the long on boundary in the fourth over that the Black Caps began to look anything like convincing. Later, Craig McMillan (22*) and Fleming (20*) availed themselves of ten runs from the 11th over of the innings, and another six from the 12th, to finally inject some run-scoring momentum. But the Kiwis' batting generally remained unremarkable as the opening salvos of the match were fired.
Astle's opening partner, Lou Vincent (7), survived a ferocious appeal from the very first ball of the match after being struck on the back pad by a Shaun Pollock delivery angling in toward off and middle stumps. Umpire Daryl Harper answered those pleas in the negative but the young right hander was unable to capitalise on his reprieve.
After edging to third man, and playing uncomfortably off the shoulder of the bat over second slip, Vincent was ultimately undone fatally by the impressive pace of Makhaya Ntini. An awkward, jumping attempt to fend a short ball away from in front of his chest parried the ball high in the air behind point and permitted Jonty Rhodes the opportunity to complete one of the least spectacular catches of his career.
Astle beat the same track back to the pavilion a short time later after what appeared like an attempt to steer a delivery from Ntini to third man resulted in the presentation of a waist-high chance for Jacques Kallis at second slip.
With Pollock generating similarly impressive bowling at the other end, Ntini's accuracy and pace were both unerring in an outstanding opening spell. Though the sports-loving population of Melbourne has so far shown little love for this encounter and has appeared at the MCG in only small numbers, Ntini's effort has been a delightful one to watch.
There might even have been a wicket for Allan Donald, too, almost immediately upon his replacement of Pollock at the Members' End. Gully fieldsman Nicky Boje wrapped both hands around the ball as McMillan, on 16, cut powerfully toward him but he was unable to hang on to the difficult chance.
While the miss was a frustrating one, it didn't really upset the early trend of South African command all the same.
In the tranquil atmosphere, the New Zealanders need to display more violent intent with the bat.
Neither country has ever yet won a one-day international title on Australian soil. So the best-of-three finals duel which they are about to contest in order to decide the winner of this season's VB Series is one that promises plenty in the way of opportunity.
Having dispensed - albeit controversially - with pre-tournament favourite Australia, now comes their chance to make this competition their own.
And, to that end, the New Zealanders have made a good start. Captain Stephen Fleming has won the toss and elected to bat amid fine conditions in Melbourne. Though the MCG pitch is still expected to serve up the healthy degree of early bounce that it has offered for much of the series to fast bowlers prepared to bend their backs, Fleming's decision will also help his team avoid the prospect of chasing a big South African total. That is a task with which it has struggled consistently of late.
After winning three of the teams' four contests in the series, and an astonishing 15 of their last 16 meetings overall, it's South Africa which enters the deciders as the clear favourite.
Which is probably not a huge statement in itself, given that talent spreads itself in thick measure right across the Proteas' line-up.
All-rounders Shaun Pollock and Jacques Kallis, batsmen Gary Kirsten and Jonty Rhodes, wicketkeeper Mark Boucher, and bowlers Allan Donald, Nicky Boje and Makhaya Ntini have all been in excellent form in the series. Importantly, there have been few passengers within their ranks and the team has played with a sense of confidence that had been missing in its Test series against Australia earlier in the summer.
That said, though, any attempt to take the Black Caps lightly will almost certainly end in disaster. Well coached, well drilled, and often artfully captained, the New Zealanders have made a habit of confounding expectation during their dual tours of Australia this summer.
They've surprised some, and even annoyed others, at different times - not least with their much-discussed decision to deliberately surrender a bonus point in their closing preliminary match.
And they'll certainly be out to upset conventional wisdom again.
New Zealand's major focus will be on curtailing the Proteas' ability - on show consistently in this series - to plunder runs at will in the closing overs of innings against them. That the series' leading wicket-taker, Shane Bond, is back in the ranks after a brief injury scare will be a major boost to such hopes.
Also important will be an ability to mount successful partnerships at the top of the batting order. The Black Caps have been struggling for some time to pair together a long-lasting opening duo at one-day international level, and there would probably be no better time than now to unearth it.
Against a South African attack that has consistently caused it problems in the recent past, sound starts to the New Zealanders' innings may represent the entire difference between winning and losing these finals.
For as brilliantly as the likes of Chris Cairns and Chris Harris have performed in extricating their team from early batting surrenders in the series, greater productivity from the upper order will surely be a major plank of New Zealand's pre-finals planning.
It's impossible to gauge how the crowds will react to this match-up nor which team will win the majority of the patrons' loyalties. It represents only the third one-day international finals series here in the space of 22 years that has failed to featured Australia and, for the most recent precedent, we have to go all the way back to 1996-97. And, that said, the audience is not a large one close to the outset of the match.
At their pre-match press conferences yesterday, both captains acknowledged that the ways in which the spectators engage with the series rest in the lap of the gods.
And, with rain having tumbled for three of the last five days in Sydney (the venue scheduled to play host to the remaining match, or matches, in the series), it's just possible that those upstairs may settle another issue too.
Because there's a real chance - with no reserved days allocated for any of the three games - that they will fondly reward the team which impresses most in the series-opener at the MCG this afternoon.
South Africa: Shaun Pollock (c), Herschelle Gibbs, Gary Kirsten, Jacques Kallis, Boeta Dippenaar, Jonty Rhodes, Mark Boucher, Lance Klusener, Nicky Boje, Allan Donald, Makhaya Ntini.
New Zealand: Stephen Fleming (c), Lou Vincent, Nathan Astle, Craig McMillan, Chris Cairns, Chris Harris, Adam Parore, Andre Adams, Dion Nash, Daniel Vettori, Shane Bond.
Date-stamped : 06 Feb2002 - 15:17