AB Leads Proteas to Overwhelming Victory
Posted by: Cricket South Africa on Saturday, 25 February 2012

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AB DE VILLIERS led the Proteas’ Castle Lager squad superbly from the front to an overwhelming six-wicket victory over the New Zealand Black Caps at Wellington on Saturday in the first of three ODIs with almost five overs to spare.

The Proteas’ captain finished unbeaten with a run-a-ball century (106 off 106 balls, 3 fours, 4 sixes) –the 13th three-figure score in his ODI career. He has now scored 9 centuries over the last two years at an average of almost 80.

De Villiers was quick to give credit to his bowlers for setting up the victory. It was, indeed, the best bowling and fielding performance of the New Zealand tour to date. “We built up pressure with dot balls and our bowlers always picked up a wicket when it was needed,” he said. “It was an excellent performance to restrict them to a total of 250 (253/9) and that is where we won the match.”

There were many positives for the Proteas to take out of the match. In the bigger picture the most important was probably Dale Steyn hitting the ground running in his first ‘middle’ cricket for some 6 weeks. The Proteas’ speedster has often taken time to get his rhythm back after an extended break but the rest has obviously done him the world of good and he swung the ball from his first delivery to his last.

His figures were, in fact, no accurate reflection of his performance. Apart from playing a major role in shutting New Zealand down in the batting power play and in the 10 ‘death’ overs he also struck both Rob Nicol and Brendon McCullum about the body and generally made a very strong psychological play.

Lopsy Tsotsobe took the important wicket of Martin Guptill up front and he, Morne Morkel, Jacques Kallis and Robbie Peterson got two wickets each.

The other big positive came from Faf du Plessis, who undoubtedly spurred on by the abuse he had to take from New Zealand last time out at the ICC World Cup last year, played by far his most authoritative innings for the Proteas.

De Villiers and JP Duminy had played the Proteas into a winning position with their fourth-wicket stand of 90 off 122 balls but the situation still required some acceleration and it was Du Plessis who provided just that by hitting a succession of boundaries that had eluded the top five.

The Proteas went into the last 15 overs needing 95 runs and nobody could have foreseen at that stage that they would win with a third of the overs to spare. But that is exactly what happened. Du Plessis smashed his way to an unbeaten 66 off 49 balls with 9 fours and a six and contributed more than half of the unbroken partnership of 129 for the fifth wicket with De Villiers.

He reached his half-century in the grand manner, walking down the wicket to Doug Bracewell and swotting him over midwicket for six.

The partnership also inflicted severe scarring on Bracewell and Tim Southee, New Zealand’s two main strike bowlers who, between them, conceded more than 120 runs for their two wickets.

It was rather appropriate that he should finish the match with a gentle nudge behind square leg for a single because that is how the runs chase was set up. De Villiers, in fact, scored more than half of his runs in singles.

It was this mature chase that will have pleased coach Gary Kirsten a great deal and that also applies to the way the six-man attack restricted New Zealand to 62/5 in the last 10 overs. All six bowlers were use during this period and Peterson once again excelled when he was entrusted with the ball for two of the last five overs.

The Proteas will obviously want to get better batting starts in the remaining two matches but it has to be born in mind that neither Kallis nor Graeme Smith has been in the ‘middle’ for more than a month while Hashim Amla has yet to strike form.

Class is permanent and it is unlikely that form will desert this trio for much longer.

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