Amla, Tahir soothe South Africa’s Eden Park pains

South Africa might not have left Eden Park on Friday night with their bad memories of the ground expunged, but they at least had the satisfaction of having created some good ones. The Proteas began their full-length tour of New Zealand with a crushing 78-run win in the one-off Twenty20 international (T20I) that has certainly set the tone for what is to come. They clearly mean business.

Stuck in to bat on an evening where light rain made occasional appearances, they totalled 185 for six without ever hitting top gear, then produced their best bowling performance in a limited-overs match this year. Despite bowling with a wet ball, Chris Morris swung it up front in an opening spell of 2 for 10 in three overs, and Andile Phehlukwayo (3 for 19) and Imran Tahir (5 for 24) backed him up as New Zealand were bowled out for 107 inside 15 overs.

The hosts had won every completed home game this summer, but South Africa were always going to be a more formidable opponent in these conditions than Pakistan, Bangladesh and a patched-up Australian side. Trent Boult proved up for the task as he registered the outlandish figures of 2 for 8 in four overs, but the majority of his teammates were outclassed.

New Zealand did start well with the ball thanks to Boult, who picked up the early wicket of Quinton de Kock in an opening spell of 1 for 2 in two overs. But in the last two overs of the powerplay, Hashim Amla went berserk, hitting six fours to leave South Africa well set on 56 for one.

While Amla, who top-scored for South Africa with 62 from 43 balls, and Faf du Plessis went into a brief lull when the field spread, in the ninth over it was ‘go time’ once again. In Mitchell Santner’s second over, du Plessis came down the track to twice hit the left-arm spinner over the short straight boundaries for six. Amla went to fifty in 32 balls in the 10th over, and then hit Colin Munro over long-off for six to leave the Proteas on 98 for one at the halfway point of their innings.

Kane Williamson needed a wicket and brought back Boult, but when he induced a loose stroke from du Plessis that saw the ball skied to backward point, three fielders converged on the ball only for Santner to drop it. Fortunately for New Zealand, du Plessis (36) missed a straight full toss at the start of the 12th over to be trapped plumb lbw by Colin de Grandhomme, ending a 87-run stand.

Santner should have had the wicket of Amla moments later when the batsman advanced down the wicket and missed the ball, but it shot past Luke Ronchi and ran away for four byes. The chances kept coming though as South Africa went hell for leather, and in the next over Ben Wheeler followed Amla with a bouncer and a mistimed pull was taken at deep square-leg.

South Africa still looked on for 200, especially when AB de Villiers hit de Grandhomme for a huge six to suggest that he was about to hit top gear. But the very next ball, de Grandhomme’s slower one outfoxed the batsman, as he was caught for 26.

Duminy’s brisk 29, which included two crisp sixes, kept South Africa ticking as light rain fell in the final overs. But Boult continued to be superb, with his final over costing just two runs and earning the wicket of Farhaan Behardien, as his four overs effectively kept South Africa below 200.

South Africa’s bowling up top has been one of their biggest concerns ahead of the Champions Trophy, but Morris is making a strong case to partner Kagiso Rabada with the new ball. Morris took 4 for 31 while opening the bowling in the final ODI against Sri Lanka, and with Rabada rested for this match, he led the way.

After tormenting debutant Glenn Phillips at the start of his innings, Morris had him caught behind at the start of his second over and then knocked Colin Munro over first ball. With Dane Paterson bowling smartly in Rabada’s stead, New Zealand were off to a slow start as Williamson found himself starved of strike. When the New Zealand captain picked out square-leg in Andile Phelukwayo’s first over, the hosts were 38 for three and yet to face a delivery from Tahir.

Phehlukwayo struck again in his second over as Corey Anderson was caught behind, and then Tahir got involved, bowling top scorer Tom Bruce (33) with the googly, before the same delivery did for Luke Ronchi first ball. De Grandhomme looked to have the leg spinner’s measure when he hit him for two consecutive sixes, but Tahir had the last laugh when he had the batsman caught at deep backward point.

All that was left was for the bowlers to fight over the remaining wickets, but it was no contest. Wayne Parnell ended as South Africa’s sole disappointment as he got slapped around by Tim Southee, before Tahir grabbed two more wickets to wrap up the match. Already the No. 1-ranked bowler in the format, his value to the South African side nevertheless seems to grow with every match.

Brief Scores: South Africa 185/6 in 20 overs (Hashim Amla 62, Faf du Plessis 36; Trent Boult 2-8) beat New Zealand 107 (Tom Bruce 33, Tim Southee 20; Imran Tahir 5-24, Andile Phehlukwayo 3-19) by 78 runs


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