CHENNAI – England’s much-maligned bowlers conjured up a lion-hearted effort to pull off a remarkable six-run victory against South Africa as their wildly fluctuating World Cup adventure took another dramatic turn yesterday.
The team that has contributed much of the excitement that has brought alive the tournament dished out yet another Group B heart-stopper when their chastised bowlers redeemed themselves by defending a total as insubstantial as 171 to eke out a narrow victory.
“A cliffhanger of a game, we’re keeping people interested at the moment… We have been involved in three very tight games of cricket so far in this World Cup. I think we are definitely doing our bit to advertise the 50-overs format,” England captain Andrew Strauss quipped after the match.
It was no vain glory from the leader of a team which jeopardised their quarter-final prospects by barely avoiding an upset against the Netherlands, sharing a dramatic tie against India and sensationally going down to Ireland in their first three outings.
There was no dearth of drama yesterday either.
For once, the batsmen, including Strauss (0), let the team down and it was left to Jonathan Trott (52) and Ravi Bopara (60), drafted in place of the injured Paul Collingwood for a Man-Of-The-Match Award-winning performance, to lend some respectability to the score.
At the innings break, the potential blockbuster featuring two of the best teams never to have won a One-Day International (ODI) World Cup had all the looks of being South Africa’s third straight victory in the tournament.
But if Strauss watched a horror story unfolding before his eyes when his side batted, what his bowlers came up with was sheer magic.
Stuart Broad (four for 15) struck just when it mattered most, like in the 48th over when he claimed the last two wickets in four balls to seal the win.
Pace colleague James Anderson (two for 16), who had been England’s most expensive bowler at the tournament until yesterday, terrorised the batsmen with his grasp over reverse swing, while Graeme Swann (one for 29) tormented with sharp turns to suddenly lay bare South Africa’s unsuspected batting frailties.
This was a dramatic turnaround by the bowlers who bled so heavily against the Netherlands (292 runs), India (338) and Ireland (329).
“It was a huge game for us. After the match against Ireland, we needed to show some character . . . .The bowlers have been under the pump, for them to come up and show what they can do bodes well for us in the tournament,” a relieved Strauss said.
His counterpart Smith rued the “inconsistent surface”, regretted he could not voice his opinion about the umpire decision review system and denied his team choked again, but was gracious enough to praise the English bowlers.
“All credit to the England players, the way they played in the last 15 overs … credit to them for the skill they showed today.”
There was more drama in the match than a Bollywood pot-boiler and Smith featured in one episode when the game was suspended for a while as the TV umpire reviewed whether he had actually gloved a ball.
Smith’s teammate Jacques Kallis was his usual sportsmanlike self, taking England wicketkeeper Matt Prior’s word that the ball he edged had carried and left the field without waiting for the umpire’s decision.
South Africa still were cruising towards a victory but losing five quick wickets unhinged the side and tilted the match in England’s favour. (Reuters)