» News » Losing Jonty Rhodes could be a big blow

Losing Jonty Rhodes could be a big blow

By Barry Richards
February 15, 2003 20:40 IST
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The result of Sunday's needle match between South Africa and New Zealand depends on whether both teams have got some basic problems -- which surfaced in both their opening matches -- sorted out. Tomorrow's game is a must-win game for New Zealand if they stick to their decision to forfeit their points against Kenya. However, the game is no less important for the hosts who have only a win against Kenya to show for their efforts so far.

The problem area for South Africa is their back-up bowlers. Lance Klusener, Nicky Boje and Allan Donald are a bit of a weak link when they come into the attack after Shaun Pollock and Makhaya Ntini. Klusener did have a good game against Kenya, but the bigger teams will target him. Pollock and Ntini are doing a very good job at the start of the innings and one of the possibilities that the captain can explore is to bowl out either himself or Ntini at the beginning of the innings itself.

In the game against the West Indies, the latter were 23 for two in 12 overs, but the pressure was relieved as soon as Donald and Jacques Kallis came into the attack. In fact, South Africa will be anxious about Kallis's form. He is not bowling particularly well and that only adds to Pollock's problem. Since both he and Ntini almost invariably make the early breakthrough, one of them holding an end up might keep the pressure on for some more time.

Jonty RhodesIf Pollock's problems with the bowling are not enough, Jonty Rhodes's injury opens up difficult questions about the batting order as well. Does he stick to the opening combination of Herschelle Gibbs and Gary Kirsten, or does he allow Graeme Smith, Jonty's replacement, to return to the top of the order? Smith has always enjoyed opening, where he uses the pace of the ball to score quickly. He is not quite as effective a player when he comes in later in the order since he struggles against the softer older ball. He is usually unable to create any pace with his shots and gets frustrated.

Not many of the guys in the middle order have spent much time in the middle over the last two games South Africa have played. Doeppenar has scored 20-odd, and the rest have had very little time in the middle. At such a juncture, losing Jonty Rhodes could be a real big blow.

Pollock also must guard against the return of the tag of chokers. His team might have pulled it off at Newlands if Klusener and Boje had not made the schoolboy error of not crossing when the former's shot was in the air. Boje and not Ntini would have taken strike in the next over, and in the wash-up of things, that error might have cost them the three runs that decided the match in West Indies' favour.

Stephen Fleming's problems are no less either. The most worrying factor for him right now is the non-performance of the usually reliable Nathan Astle and Craig McMillan. Astle has not fired at all for sometime now, but he did look promising before a poor decision cut short his innings at 46 against the West Indies. I think Fleming has dropped Astle down the order in order to protect him from the new ball. Also, it would be too dangerous for both him and Fleming to play at the top of the order as they form the bedrock of the New Zealand batting line-up.

The other big problem they have is the demise of Chris Harris as a utility man. His batting has fallen away badly and his bowling has become predictable and eminently sloggable in its slowness.

I had plenty of hopes from New Zealand as they came into this World Cup, but their performance has been a little off-colour so far. Who knows, tomorrow might be the day it might all turn right for them.

They have their work cut out as they will be facing the South Africans, whom they've never beaten before at home. Add to that the fact that the match is being played at the Wanderers, where traditionally, the South Africans have a wonderful time playing.


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Barry Richards