South Africa narrowly avoided a shock defeat to the Netherlands in the ICC World Twenty in Chittagong, Bangladesh on Thursday, successfully defending a low total to edge the Dutch by five runs and keep their hopes of reaching the semi-finals alive.
Coming off a nasty nine-wicket defeat to Sri Lanka, the Netherlands were not expected to push the Proteas much. Instead they made the game very uncomfortable for the South Africans and their supporters by restricting Faf du Plessis and company to only 145 for 9 in their 20 overs.
The pitch suited their bowling, but their bowlers had to make full use of it, and they did, led by Ashan Malik, who mixed up his pace up very effectively to capture a stunning 5 for 19 in his four overs.
He ended Hashim Amla’s very aggressive innings at the top of the order after the South African opener had smashed 43 off only 22 deliveries and followed that up with the wickets of Albie Morkel (5), David Miller (17), Dale Steyn (5) and Beuran Hendricks (3).
With Malik setting the bar high, the rest of the Dutch attack responded with some tight bowling.
Lack of boundaries
SA skipper Faf du Plessis smashed a six off the fourth ball of the ninth over, but was out the very next ball, caught on the boundary off the bowling of Tom Cooper. Incredibly, it took until the fourth ball of the 17th over for the Proteas to strike their next boundary as the Netherlands’ bowlers allowed little width to the batsmen and kept the ball full.
Du Plessis managed 24 off 14 deliveries, but the two next highest scorers, AB de Villiers and David Miller, usually free scoring batsmen, were restricted to 21 off 21 balls and 17 off of 18 respectively.
Ultimately, the Proteas managed only 13 fours and one six in their innings, with Amla responsible for the majority of them, striking seven boundaries and the only maximum of the South African innings.
In the end, they mustered only 145 for 9, leaving the Dutch requiring 7.3 runs per over for victory.
Former KwaZulu-Natal Inland and Northerns player Stephan Myburgh then threatened to win the game for the Dutch with a destructive knock at the top of their batting order.
Fellow opener Michael Swart was the first to fall, but when he was dismissed for eight in the sixth over of the innings the Dutch had already reached 55, thanks mostly to the efforts of Myburgh.
His belligerent knock was finally ended in the eighth over when he played on to JP Duminy for 51 off only 28 balls. By then, however, the Netherlands were on 80 for 2, well within sight of a shocking upset of the South Africans.
South Africa needed somebody to step up and stop the flow of runs. That man proved to be leg-spinner Imran Tahir. He begin his heroics by trapping Wesley Barresi in front for 14 and then followed that up by seeing off captain Peter Borren LBW for 13.
Still, at 116 for 4, the Dutch needed only 30 runs for victory with six wickets in hand. Dale Steyn, though, removed Ben Cooper for five on that total, followed by Tahir bowling Cooper’s in-form brother Tom for 16 to reduce the men in orange to 116 for 6.
Two runs later, Tahir claimed his fourth wicket, when Pieter Seelar was caught by JP Duminy for two, to leave the Netherlands wobbling on 118 for 7.
David Miller and Quinton de Kock then combined to run out Logan van Beek to make it 125 for 8. Mudasser Bukhari and Timm van de Gugten added nine runs, taking the total to 134 before Lonwabo Tsotsobe, who was expensive with a return of 1 for 46 in his four overs, had Bukhari caught by Miller for 11.
At 134 for 9, the Proteas needed only one wicket to avoid an embarrassing set-back. To their relief, they claimed it five runs later when Hendricks picked up his second T20 international wicket, having Van der Gugten caught behind for eight.
‘We are making it hard for ourselves’
“I think we are making it hard for ourselves,” South African captain Faf du Plessis said at the post-match ceremony. Optimistically, he added: “It’s a great sign when your side is not playing 100 percent and still gets over the line.
“Credit to Netherlands for some very good bowling. Tahir and Steyn were outstanding. Credit to young Hendricks for bowling well under pressure. Credit to Netherlands as they played very good cricket for 70 percent of the game.”
‘We obviously let this one go’
Defeat was tough to swallow for Dutch captain Peter Borren. “We obviously let this one go. We played across the line to Tahir. It’s a real shame,” he said.
“They got off to a flying start and we did well to pull them back. Malik is a fantastic bowler and credit to him.
“I have to take the responsibility too with my dismissal tonight. I’m miffed with the fact that we didn’t get over the line. After our last game I’m glad we stepped up better tonight.”
‘It was a good team effort’
For his crucial role in South Africa’s victory, Imran Tahir was named man of the match. “I’m really pleased. It was a good team effort,” he said.
“We believed that we could have won this game, but it wasn’t an easy one. I just tried to bowl wicket to wicket.”
In Thursday’s other Group 1 game, England chased down a victory target of 190 to beat Sri Lanka by six wickets, with Alex Hales becoming the first Englishman to hit a T20 international century, finishing with 116 not out off of just 54 deliveries, with 11 fours and 6 sixes.
South Africa next face England on Saturday in Chittagong in their final group match.