The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Crushing win helps SA top group
- It’s difficult explaining our performance, says former captain Rameez Raja

Chandigarh: The other day, coach Bob Woolmer confessed there had been times when he could’ve throttled somebody. On Friday, after Pakistan got beaten black and blue by South Africa (a team he once nursed) in a virtual quarter final, that urge must have returned.

Saluted for staying calm, no matter what the adversity, Woolmer almost snapped when someone asked how he intended to lift his team. “I’m not sure why I’ve got to lift the players... I’m there to help, but they’re the ones who’ve got to lift themselves.”

The 124-run thrashing, which ended Pakistan’s campaign in the Champions Trophy, obviously hurt Woolmer hard. It was, incidentally, the first Pakistan-South Africa clash in his ‘era’.

“We batted very poorly... It was abject batting, albeit on a (PCA Stadium, Mohali) wicket which wasn’t easy... Our shot selection wasn’t good and it has left plenty of room for improvement.. We didn’t fire on all cylinders, but other teams also make mistakes,” the coach pointed out.

Woolmer added: “It will be interesting seeing the wicket (in all probability the one which hosted New Zealand-Pakistan) offered for Sunday’s India-Australia match...”

Defying conventional wisdom (at least in this tournament), Graeme Smith chose to set a target on a wicket which promised much action. With the ball seaming, swinging and bouncing, action wasn’t at a premium and South Africa collapsed to 42 for five before Mark Boucher and Justin Kemp scripted the latest Great Escape.

“We were positive and the boundaries early on made the bowlers think... Frankly, we were looking to push the total to 160-180 only,” Kemp informed.

The pair put on 131 for the sixth-wicket, 42 more than what Pakistan managed in their entire innings while chasing 214. If Umar Gul took two wickets in his first three balls, in the opening session, then spearhead Makhaya Ntini broke Pakistan’s back (and more) by taking five wickets for eight runs.

The result took South Africa to the top of group B, pushing New Zealand to No. 2. South Africa’s semi-finals, against the second-placed team in group A, is going to be in Jaipur on Thursday.

Smith would’ve preferred to again play in Mohali, but said they would have to “adjust” to conditions in Jaipur. “It was like home today... Actually, even at home, we don’t get such fast and bouncy wickets for the one-dayers...”

The South Africans, as was to be expected, didn’t mind bowling short and the Pakistanis got exposed. Woolmer, for his part, disagreed with a suggestion that the problem is that of temperament: “It’s technical... We had a similar problem in Perth (2004-05)... One can put things right as quickly as one gets them wrong...”

[Former captain Rameez Raja, though, feels the failure to tackle short-pitched bowling has to be addressed immediately. “The worst thing for any team is to be given a tag which reads ‘can’t play the short ball’... That’s a crushing label... It’s difficult explaining our performance tonight,” he told The Telegraph.]

Shahid Afridi, who played because Faisal Iqbal developed an eye infection, failed yet again. With scores of 1, 4 and 14, he will have few backers once he returns home.

Smith patted himself on the back saying that batting first was a “brave decision.” He explained that encouraging players to be “themselves” had helped. “New heroes keep developing, which is great for South African cricket...”

Nobody expected the bowlers to dominate the way they have, throughout this Champions Trophy, and Smith made the point that “eventualy, the game balances itself out...” It’s debatable, by the way, whether South Africa would’ve gone past 200 had the ball not been changed pretty early. The replacement didn’t swing as much and Pakistan’s momemtum suffered.

Intriguingly, despite talk about the dew having such a big influence, teams bowling second have been winning. “It’s about how well you bowl before the dew becomes a factor... You’ve got to bowl in the right areas,” Smith commented.

Well, getting the basics right should suffice.

While the buoyant South Africans are already looking beyond the semi-finals, to the November 5 final, the Pakistanis go back and prepare for the home series versus the West Indies.

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