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South Africa stay alive after great fightback

By Deepti Patwardhan in Ahmedabad
Last updated on: October 24, 2006 22:57 IST
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A brilliant performance in the field by South Africa earned them a 78-run victory over Sri Lanka in their second league game of the ICC Champions Trophy, at the Sardar Patel stadium, Motera, Ahmedabad, on Tuesday.

The three-pronged pace attack of Shaun Pollock (2 for 21), Makhaya Ntini (2 for 24) and Andre Nel (3 for 41) paved the way for a South African win, while their exceptional fielding cemented it.

Sri Lanka were dismissed for 141 in 39.1 overs while chasing a target of 220.

Earlier, Chaminda Vaas bowled a tight spell of two for 16 to reduce South Africa to 31 for three after Mahela Jayawardene had elected to field. But an 80-run partnership between Jacques Kallis (43) and Abraham de Villers (54) led South Africa's revival.

Even as the pair played out the crucial middle-overs, late hitting by Robin Peterson and Pollock helped the team to 219 for nine.

South Africa thus collected two points from their second game of the competition while Sri Lanka finished their league stage with one win and two losses.

South Africa innings:

It's not for nothing that Chaminda Vaas is regarded as one of the best ODI bowlers currently. The paceman bowled another mean spell, 10 overs on the trot, including three maidens, and grabbed two wickets for 16 runs to restrict the South African top order.

Wicketkeeper Kumara Sangakkara, standing up to Vaas in his fifth over itself, indicated that the playing strip was slow. But Vaas, who has done a lot of bowling on subcontinent tracks, bowled in the right areas to snap South Africa's patience.

He made the first cut with the wicket of Proteas captain Graeme Smith, who played after scoring 10 off 15 balls.

Vaas had Smith lean into a drive, but the ball came higher than expected and the batsmen ended up playing the ball into Sanath Jayasuriya's hands at short mid-wicket.

Herschelle Gibbs was timing the ball sweetly and had slammed three boundaries before edging it to Sangakkara off Lasitha Malinga. The batsman had survived three balls earlier, having nicked the ball but it fell just short of the wicketkeeper.

Vaas induced an edge off Boeta Dippenaar's (three off 19 balls) bat to reduce South Africa to 31 for 3.

But South Africa's crisis man Jacques Kallis again came to the rescue. He worked around the Sri Lankan attack, which lacked penetration at the other end, as Malinga and Dilhara Fernando were unable to maintain a consistent line.

Kallis shared a partnership of 80 runs with Abraham de Villiers to steady the ship. The pair stalled the fall of wickets but the scoring-rate was kept on the boil.

Most of the pitches in the Champions Trophy have been tricky for the batsmen, with the uneven bounce and lack of pace. Given the situation, the circumspect knocks by Kallis and de Villiers added meat to South Africa's total.

Though Muttiah Muralitharan was not at his best, Jayasuriya pulled the strings from the other end, bowling with great control.

Kallis hit only three boundaries -- two fours and a six off Fernando -- in his innings of 43 but was able to churn out 27 singles. He was out stumped to Jaysuriya, who sent down a teasing delivery;  Kallis failed to judge the flight and was dragged out before missing the ball.

De Viliers played a matured knock of 54 (88 balls, 3x4) but wasn't able to keep up the fight for long. In an effort to accelerate, he ended up giving a catch to Maharoof in the outfield off Muralitharan.

Mark Boucher played a handy knock of 29, but it was Robin Peterson and Shaun Pollock that saw the team past 200.

Peterson took 22 runs off Maharoof in the 49th over, hitting four fours and a six to give the total a much-needed boost. He started with a four past third-man, slogged a six over long-on, then hit a cover-drive for four and ended by running another one past third-man, this time just beating the fielder.

The crowd was all keyed up after the left-hander's antics, when Pollock followed it up with a six off Malinga in the last over, pulling the ball over the long-on fence. The bowler though struck back with wickets off successive balls, cleaning up Peterson and Andre Nel.

South Africa's innings ended on 219 for 9, much better than what looked likely after a poor start, with Pollock unbeaten on 21.

Sri Lanka innings:

Stumbling starts is the story of Champions Trophy so far, and it was no different for Sri Lanka. Their most experienced batsman, Sanath Jayasuriya, was the first to fall, lbw to Shaun Pollock. The 37-year-old though was slightly unlucky, as the ball pitched outside leg-stump and struck him in line with middle and off stump.

If Vaas did the trick for Lanka, Pollock returned with almost identical figures, 10 overs on the trot again, two wickets for 21 runs. The former South Africa captain, also a master operator in the shorter version of the game, later also picked the wicket of Kumara Sangakkara. He had the left-hander playing away from the body and edging the ball to wicketkeeper Boucher before Sangakkara had got on the board.

For South Africa, though, Mahakya Ntini also bowled aggressively from the other end. Ntini was unlucky early on, as Tharanga escaped death twice off his bowling; first, he was dropped by Jacques Kallis in the second slip and then an attempted pull took the top edge and landed before the bowler or mid-on fielder could dash for it.

Nitni finally claimed Tharanga when the batsman clipped a rising delivery to the wicketkeeper. The left-hander, who had done so well early in the tournament, was never allowed to settle down by the South African bowlers, getting him out for 11 off 34 balls.

Andre Nel, who replaced Ntini at the far end, gave Marvan Atapattu a couple of edgy moments. Mahela Jayawardene pounced on the first opportunity given by Nel, turning a half-volley off his legs to score Sri Lanka's first boundary in 57 balls.

A tight start by the new-ball bowlers meant that Nel could have a go at the batsman. He bowled some loose deliveries, short and wide, in the process and they were duly punished. But the tall paceman struck back with the wicket of Marvan Atapattu, with a superb off-cutter. After pitching well outside the off-stump, the ball cut back in sharply to clip the bails.

Mahela Jayawardene batted well for his 36, coming off 50 balls with four boundaries, and shared a 44-run stand with Tillekaratne Dilshan for the fifth wicket.

For Sri Lanka to make a game of it, they needed at least one big partnership like South Africa, but the Lankan captain was run-out in the middle of a recovery.

Dilshan cracked the ball to backward point; Gibbs swooped down and shot up in one motion to aim for the non-striker's end. The bowler, Ntini, missed the ball, but Pollock, backing up, picked up the ball and dived to dislodge the bails while Jayawardene was caught in a completely different confusion with his partner.

There was another comedy of errors, though nothing related to the game.

The super sopper came out during the second drinks break to polish off the dew but was still lingering around when the fielders had taken their positions. With the gate for the vehicle being very narrow, the driver tried to maneuver into it. The space still wasn't enough so he reversed the sopper and crawled towards the gate even as the players waited with craned necks for it to leave.

Coming back to cricket, Vaas broke the drought of fours with two successive hits to the fence to either side of sweeper cover off Kallis. But whatever big runs they were able to get were only sprinkles of respite on the crumbling Sri Lankan structure.

Kallis, who twisted his ankle while batting, Justin Kemp and Ntini grabbed a wicket each and Nel two more wickets to his account to see off the Sri Lankan tail.

Vaas, adding some spark to the Lankan effort, remained unbeaten on 29 off 34 balls.

The heavy dew that did come on in the night helped rather than hampered South Africa. The team went in with only one specialist spinner – Peterson -- but he wasn't given the ball since the pacers, assisted by napkin-wielding fieldsmen, were able to use the ball better.

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Deepti Patwardhan in Ahmedabad