HAMILTON â Zimbabweâs spirited cricketers lost the battle, but won global praise for the way they bravely took on the worldâs best team before succumbing to a 62-run defeat as the opening game of Group B of the 2015 ICC Cricket World Cup produced fireworks galore at Seddon Park yesterday.
The phrase âspirited Zimbabweâ was a common theme in the coverage of a game that exploded in the final 10 overs of South Africaâs innings, producing a record World Cup fifth wicket stand by David Miller and JP Duminy, who both hit centuries, after the Zimbabweans had taken control earlier on by reducing their powerful neighbours to 83 for four.
That the Proteas, one of the favourites to win the World Cup, ended up reaching 339 for 4 was largely because of Miller and Duminyâs hitting, but even after that, Zimbabweâs spirited run chase â where they suffered the smallest losing margin, among the four teams that lost in the first four games â was hailed as a gallant effort.
Interestingly, all the four losing teams, in the first two days of this World Cup, batted second but England, Pakistan and Sri Lanka all suffered heavier defeats and with the exception of the English, playing against teams not really as classy as this South African side.
Chamu Chibhabha and Hamilton Masakadza made 64 and 80 to give Zimbabwe hope of a successful run chase and that the Zimbabweans were 190-2, after 32 overs, must have concerned the South Africans.
But, soon, the Proteasâ pedigree showed and Zimbabwe were eventually bundled out for 277.
No wonder why AB de Villiers, the South African skipper, believes Zimbabwe have what it takes to make a major impression on this World Cup.
âThese blokes can play some cricket. I will not be surprised if they cause a few upsets later on the tournament,â AB de Villiers said.
Although Zimbabwe lost, their margin of defeat was the closest among the first four completed games in the competition so far and skipper Elton Chigumbura hoped that would serve as a warning to their upcoming opposition.
âThey should do their homework,â Chigumbura, who won the toss and elected to field, said. âWe are here to play positive cricket. We will be positive from ball one until the end.
âWe are disappointed with losing the game but the way we played had a lot of positives. We were in the game for a long time. Maybe we lost it in the last five overs, both batting and bowling.
â(Solomon) Mireâs over â the 48th â which went for 30, thatâs where we gave too many runs. And then we were going well with the partnership between Hamilton and Chibhabha.
âTo have a guy like Hamilton, who is a senior player, playing the way he is runs off on the rest of us. Itâs good to see him scoring runs. He is a match-winner. If he gets another chance, he can finish the game but today he didnât.
âWe lost wickets at the wrong times. We needed wickets in hand in the last 15 overs but everyone was up for it. We just need to try and finish off. Chasing big scores is an art so we need to find the best strategy.â
Coming into the tournament as top contenders for the crown, South Africa was expected to dictate terms, but that wasnât the case until Miller and Duminy came on.
Getting together at a precarious 83 for 4, the two added 256 runs in an unbroken fifth-wicket partnership â the best ever for the fifth wicket in One-Day Internationals.
The previous record was held by Eoin Morgan and Ravi Bopara, who made 226 against Ireland in 2013. Miller scored 138 from 92 balls with seven fours and nine hits over the fence.
Duminy was the one playing second fiddle in the partnership, but even, he picked up his scoring rate as the innings wore on, and ended with 115 from 100 balls with nine fours and three sixes.
Zimbabweâs bowling attack, which showed a lot of promise early in the innings when it sent back Quinton de Kock, Hashim Amla, Faf du Plessis and de Villiers, fell away once Duminy and Miller took charge.
A decade â thatâs how long itâs been since Zimbabwe had South Africa four down with the teamâs hundred still a way away. Opportunity beckoned, but Miller and Duminy heard the call louder.
Their counter-attacking centuries reinforced the skill that runs down this mighty batting line-up, as a score of 83 for 4 grew into 339 for 4 and the world record for the fifth-wicket partnership was updated to 256 off 178.
South Africa had taken 24.1 overs to score 100 runs and 40.2 overs to get to 200, but with Miller and Duminy calling the shots after that, the runs came quick.
It reached 300 from 47.5 overs, a feat made possible because Miller took on Mire in the 48th over, smashing 30 runs. But it wasnât one-way traffic.
Dale Steyn, the best bowler in the world, went for 64 runs from nine overs and grabbed one wicket, while Morne Morkel was belted for 49 from 8.2 overs.
Imran Tahir was the most successful bowler for South Africa. The spinner took three wickets for 36 runs from his 10 overs. Coming together after Sikandar Raza was sent back by Vernon Philander, Chibhabha and Masakadza, whose century helped Zimbabwe to a win over Sri Lanka in the warm-up fixture last week, added 105 for the second wicket to raise Zimbabweâs hopes.
Chibhabha, back after nearly two years in ODI exile and Masakakadza, playing his first World Cup in a 13-year career, were impressive.
A refreshing partnership began, but it could only extend to 105 and the ones that followed were cut short before they could pry the match from South Africaâs hands.
Brendan Taylor too pitched in with a run-a-ball 40, but the lower-middle order was unable to capitalise on the sturdy base. For Zimbabwe, there would be no repeat of 1999.
Zimbabwe lost it when their bowlers lost it in the final overs.
The result was a numbing mix of sixes off over-pitched balls, sixes off full tosses and sixes off short balls. The wresting of momentum appeared very stark as the fielders began giving up on chasing the ball once it cleared the infield.
And those were the lucky ones for Zimbabwe. Miller tonked one that soared over the square-leg boundary and may well had disrupted the traffic outside the ground.
Mire was the bowler and this was how that over, the 48th of the innings, went: 6 4 4 6 4 6 â thatâs more than South Africa made in the first 10 overs.
Zimbabwe bowled 23 overs for under six. Eight was the most they had given away until the 37th cost 10.
After that, there was a batch of fours between the 45th and 48th that bled 80.
While batting, they had been ahead of South Africaâs 262 at the end of the 46th over. The question of âwhat ifâ must be haunting them.
Q. de Kock c Ervine b Chatara 7
Hasim Amla b Panyangara 11
F. du Plessis c Taylor b Chigumbura 24
AB de Villiers c Ervine b Kamungozi 25
D. Miller not out 138
JP Duminy not out 115
Extras: (lb1, nb2, w16) 19 Total: (4 wkts, 50 overs) 339
Did not bat: F. Behardien, V. Philander, D. Steyn, Imran Tahir, M. Morkel
Fall of wickets: 1-10 (de Kock), 2-21 (Amla), 3-67 (du Plessis), 4-83 (de Villiers)
Bowling: Panyangara 10-2-73-1 (3w); Chatara 10-1-71-1 (1nb, 5w); Mire 6-0-61-0 (2w); Chigumbura 4-0-30-1 (1nb, 2w); Williams 8-0-44-0 (3w); Kamungozi 8-0-34-1; Raza 3-0-19-0 (1w); Masakadza 1-0-6-0
C. Chibhabha c Duminy b Tahir 64
Sikandar Raza b Philander 5
H. Masakadza c Amla b Tahir 80
B. Taylor c Philander b Morkel 40
S. William c de Kock b Duminy 8
C. Ervine c de Villiers b Steyn 13
E. Chigumbura run out 8
S. Mire c de Villiers b Philander 27
T. Panyangara c de Villiers b Tahir 4
T. Chatara c and b Morkel 6
T. Kamungozi not out 0
Extras: (lb13, w9) 22
Total: (all out; 48.2 overs) 277
Fall of wickets: 1-32 (Raza), 2-137 (Chibhabha), 3-191 (Masakadza), 4-214 (Taylor), 5-218 (Williams), 6-236 (Chigumbura), 7-240 (Ervine), 8-245 (Panyangara), 9-272 (Mire), 10-277 (Chatara)
Bowling: Philander 8-0-30-2 (3w); Morkel 8.2-1-49-2 (2w); Steyn 9-0-64-1; Behardien 5-0-40-0 (1w); Duminy 8-0-45-1 (2w); Tahir 10-0-36-3 (1w)
Result: South Africa won by 62 runs