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Cricket | South Africa

Graeme Smith © Gallo Images

Proteas find 'extra gear' when needed

Throughout South Africa’s tour of New Zealand, during all three series in different formats, there have been times when the home side has opened the door of opportunity – only to see it slam in their faces.

They should have won the final T20 before a shocking choke and laid the platform for much higher scores before folding badly in the first two one-day internationals.

In Dunedin they bowled South Africa out for just 238 in the first innings of the first test but weren’t able to capitalise and apply the pressure on South Africa which their bowlers had worked so hard to set up.

Once again in Hamilton, during the second second test which South Africa won so convincingly by nine wickets with a session and two days to spare, it was a case of missed opportunities for the home side – one in particular, when South Africa’s top order was blown away by paceman Mark Gillespie.

“It was a bit a squeaky for us at 88-6 in our first innings but AB showed a lot of skill and composure and the bowlers showed once again how important those lower order runs can be. Over a hundred came from the last three wickets and that might have been crucial,” Graeme Smith said after the match.

“A lead of 68 might not sound like a lot but it is on a pitch like that,” said Black Caps skipper, Ross Taylor. “It was hard enough to concede the deficit but when we lost four wickets before we’d even got rid of we were always chasing the game.”

So were New Zealand guilty of squandering their chances, or did South Africa raise their game when they sensed danger?

“Probably a bit of both,” said Taylor. “They’re a great team and they know exactly how to put you under pressure at important moments. There was no clearer example of that when they ran through us in the first innings. Brendon and me were going well at 133-2 but when they made the breakthrough they tore into us and took five wickets for nothing.”

Smith likened his team’s ability to respond to pressure situations to the way the great Australian teams he played against fought their way out of trouble. “In my first couple of series against them we had our moments of success but they always seemed to find an extra gear.

“I’d like to think we are getting there, that we have an extra gear that we can slip into when we need it. It’s about trusting yourself and trusting your teammates, knowing that you have been in problem situations before and believing that you can play yourselves out of them,” Smith said.

Man-of-the-match Vernon Philander still seems unsure of what to make of his extraordinary success and is finding new levels of understatement when asked to explain the start he has made to his test career: “The ball is coming out nicely at the moment so I can’t complain.”

The Cobras allrounder has now taken 45 wickets at an eye-watering average of 13.6 in his six tests. Only one man took more in his first half dozen tests – Australian seamer, Charlie Turner. And that was in 1887!

“That’s a long time ago… I don’t much about that era,” Philander grinned. “All I can do is try and carry on doing what I’m doing. The third test begins in Wellington on Friday – it’s a whole new event but I’ll just try and put the ball in the same place.”


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