South Africa laboured to a 5 wicket victory over Zimbabwe in the first of three ODI matches being used as a warm up to next T20 World Cup.
Although South African never looked like doing anything but winning this match, the manner in which they did told of a side that hadn’t played much cricket in months. The bowling was solid, the fielding very good, and the batting did the job required, but it all lacked inspiration. Although many will argue that the laboured performance was worrying, it was actually exactly what these matches in Zimbabwe were pencilled in for – to rid the team of any cob webs, allowing them to be ready for the T20 show piece.
An inept batting performance by the Zimbabwe top and middle order saw them at 72-7 and in danger of losing the match before lunch. But a spirited lower orde fightback by Chigumbura and Brent helped them past 200, and a degree of respectability. The innings began with some impressive stroke play by Sibanda, but like the rest of the top order he got out just when he started to look like he would give the South Africans something to think about. He edged a ball from Pollock to Smith, who took a brilliant catch low to his right. After that the wickets fell regularly, with an alarming 5 run outs, much to do with the Zimbabwean indecision as with the South African fielding. Taibu, on his return to Zimbabwean cricket, offered a brief glimmer of hope, but that was snuffed out as he fell for 22 to the impressive Morne Morkel, making his South African ODI debut. It was left to Chigumbura and Brent to rescue the Zimbabwe innings, and each batted carefully at first and then opened up a bit, both reaching half centuries, Brent being undefeated as the innings closed on 206. Chigumbura, who batted well in the Afro Asia series, has shown enough to suggest that he needs to move up the order if Zimbabwe are to be competitive in the future. He is able to grind out runs as well as find the boundary, and it is with him that the Zimbabwe future lies.
For South Africa, Pollock was his steady self, and nothing less can be expected of the old pro, finishing with 1/25 in 8 overs. However it was the bowling of debutant Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander, playing his third ODI, that will have pleased the selectors the most. Morkel, bowling at first change, has the type of controlled aggression that usually comes with experience. He is able to bowl quick while remaining economical at the same time. A weapon that will surely be utilised much more in the future. Giving South Africa a strike bowler who does not leak runs. Philander, who impressed in his first two games against Ireland and India in May, and who was named player of the tournament at the emerging players tournament in Australia recently, topping both the batting and bowling tables, continued to suggest he may be a leading player for South Africa in the present and not just the future. He picked up 2 early wickets in his spell, and was bowling when Zimbabwe slipped from 67-2 to 72-7. His economical bowling saw his figures after his first spell read 2/4 from 6 overs. He returned to bowl at the death where he conceded 11 runs in 2 overs.
On the batting side, there were half centuries from Smith, debutant Bodi, and de Villiers, who slipped down the order to four. Smith rarely looked comfortable, seeming to be under the weather, yet still managed to score his 50 off just 57 balls. Bodi, although far from the fluid, boundary hitting, batsman of domestic cricket, played some elegant flicks and lofted shots, and will be pleased with his debut performance. De Villiers looked the most comfortable at the crease and until he ran himself out never looked in any trouble against the Zimbabwean attack. It was left to Pollock and Philander to see South Africa home, winning with 2 boundaries in succession from Philander with 22 balls and 5 wickets to spare.
Although the performances of Morkel, Philander, Bodi and de Villiers will have pleased the South Africans, there is much they need to do to improve, to reach the higher standard that they aim for, and build momentum to next months tournament. They have two more matches this weekend to iron out any kinks and to give time out in the middle to their squad. For Zimbabwe, they’ll just be hoping to remain competitive.