Friday, November 27, 2009

Blistering de Villiers flays England

South Africa 354 for 6 (de Viliiers 121, Amla 86, Smith 54, Petersen 51) v England

AB de Villiers went a long way towards correcting his poor one-day record against England with a blistering 85-ball 121 as South Africa marched to a massive 354 for 6 at Newlands, their highest total against the tourists and equal-highest at the venue. In a wonderful display of clean and controlled striking de Villiers made the most of his recent promotion to No. 3, building on the 107-run opening provided by Graeme Smith and Hashim Amla.

At no stage did de Villiers take his foot off the gas, but his innings really exploded into life when South Africa took their batting Powerplay in the 43rd over. He greeted Stuart Broad with an audacious ramp-turned-scoop over the keeper's head then swept him fiercely through midwicket in an over that cost 15. His breathtaking hundred - the fourth of his career - came in the next over off 75 balls with another boundary pummelled through midwicket and erased an anomaly in his career where his previous best against England was 42.

de Villiers' effort was as pure as you could wish to see. When he invented he did so with the basis of a superb technique that meant he was always in the ideal position. When past his hundred he shimmied around his crease against Broad, but was still in the perfect position to flay him through the covers, then went down on one knee to sweep him over fine leg. When he finally skied to cover, a number of England players acknowledged the innings as he left the field.

History shows that chasing under lights on this ground is notoriously difficult, so arguably the most important part of the day was when Smith won the toss and South Africa didn't miss out. From early on it felt a given that they would reach a huge total, but de Villiers' onslaught - in which 57 came from the batting Powerplay - pushed the eventual mark from difficult to daunting.

On a picture-perfect day with a clear blue sky it soon became obvious there was little on offer for the pace bowlers. Broad, in his first serious bowl since the opening match of the tour, during which he landed awkwardly on his shoulder, bowled on both sides of the wicket and often too short. Amla pounced on the early gifts to kick-start his innings, although he did have one uncomfortable moment when a short ball from Broad struck his elbow and left him needing a couple of minutes of treatment.

Having assessed the conditions, and the lack of help for the quicks, Andrew Strauss opted not to use the bowling Powerplay straight away and introduced Graeme Swann alongside Paul Collingwood to take pace off the ball. The plan worked well as overs 11 to 15 didn't produce a boundary with Swann landing the ball well after his lay-off. Smith broke the shackles with a straight drive off Collingwood and brought up a run-a-ball fifty in the next over.

With the scoring-rate under some modicum of control Strauss called the Powerplay after the drinks break in the 18th over. Wright replaced Swann and provided the breakthrough when Smith gave himself room to carve through the off side but only succeeded in dragging into his stumps. The South African captain was furious, well aware a huge score was in the offing, but he had at least set a solid platform for his team.

Amla wouldn't be playing if Jacques Kallis hadn't been ruled out with his rib fracture but he continued to make full use of his opportunities in the top order. His 59-ball half-century followed the 57 he made at Centurion and he upped his tempo with consecutive boundaries to fine leg off Wright.

de Villiers backed up the opening stand with a positive start as he took advantage of the fielding restrictions with a flick over midwicket and two rasping cut shots. Anderson was recalled to the attack but his first over back went for 12 as South Africa once again began moving through the gears. Amla was content to play the anchor role as de Villiers rushed to a 39-ball half century and had a hundred for the taking when he bottom-edged a pull to Matt Prior.

Momentarily England held the run-rate in check when Wright had JP Duminy taken at deep square-leg, but South Africa were just biding their time. De Villiers and Alviro Petersen consolidated for a few overs until the mayhem started. The fourth-wicket stand was 95 in 10 overs then Mark Boucher ensured the innings ended with a flourish as the final 10 overs brought 109 runs.

Extraordinarily, given the total, Boucher launched the first six of the innings in the 48th over with a straight drive off Wright. Petersen reached an almost-ignored fifty from 39 balls - matching de Villiers' rate - during the final over as South Africa moved past 350. South Africa have won 24 out of 27 ODIs on this ground and it will take a monumental chase to prevent them adding to that record.

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