Here is the perfect recipe to make batsmen bite the dust in the Subcontinent: Prepare a hard track with bounce and carry. Add a tinge of green to it. Now just step aside and watch the quick bowlers bring strong-looking batting line-ups down to abject surrender.
Well, that’s the impression one walked away with after the South Africa-Pakistan game here on Friday. The seamers breathed fire on a more than helpful wicket and made the batsmen jump around like cats on a hot tin roof.
South Africa had the resources for these conditions in Makhaya Ntini and Shaun Pollock, and that saw them cruise to a 124-run victory that put them into the semifinals of the tournament.
Amongst the beneficiaries of the helpful conditions, Makhaya Ntini made the best of it. The pace spearhead came up with a fiery opening spell to decimate the Pakistan top order in no time. He picked up five wickets to effectively nip Pakistan’s chances in the bud, forcing them to pack up for 89 while chasing 214 for victory.
With Pollock being mean and menacing at the other end, Ntini bowled with vigour and passion and dealt one blow after the other. The Pakistan batsmen looked completely rattled by the pace and bounce he generated, most of them coming to the middle as if only to mark their presence.
Eventually, Ntini’s superlative performance not only ensured an easy victory for South Africa but also saved his skipper Graeme Smith from a possible embarrassment.
Smith had earlier sprung up a surprise when he elected to bat first in conditions that seemed to favour the team batting second. And when the Pakistan bowlers, especially Umar Gul, had the South Africans in all kinds of trouble right from the word go, it appeared that Smith was going to regret his decision.
Gul trapped Smith right in front of the stumps on the second ball of the match and then had Gibbs caught in the slips on the very next ball to signal what was in store for them.
The ball was practically darting around and the batsmen were really struggling to come to terms with it. Kallis and Dippenar tried to dig in, but they too found the going too hot to handle and departed soon to leave their team tottering at 42 for five.
The South Africans were looking down the barrel at this stage, but here Mark Boucher (69) and Justin Kemp (64) gritted down to stitch an invaluable 131-run partnership for the sixth wicket.
The duo battled hard and gave South Africa a total that would have given their bowlers some hope. It’s an altogether different matter, though, that this total seemed a huge one only after Ntini and company dismantled the Pakistan batting.
It was the partnership between Boucher and Kemp that gave South Africa a semblance of hope in the game. As this partnership blossomed, it also brought to fore the inadequacy of the Pakistan attack.
They had South Africa down in the dumps at 42 for five but did not have enough firepower to crush them completely. South Africa, on the other hand, showed no mercy at all once they had Pakistan on the mat and ultimately choked the fight out of them.
The wicket was undoubtedly difficult to bat on, as was admitted by both teams later, but most batsmen left a lot to be desired in terms of determination and dedication.