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Port Elizabeth wicket not upto scratch

By Glenn McGrath
March 12, 2003 19:41 IST
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I remember a one-day match we played against South Africa during our tour of the country last year. The hosts put up 326 and we overhauled it with plenty of overs and wickets to spare. The venue was Port Elizabeth. I have never seen a wicket get transformed so completely in such a short time, but the current Port Elizabeth wicket is not upto scratch for a World Cup semi-final. Curators at the ground told us that the way the wicket played depended on the direction in which the wind blew. That's pretty unscientific, if you ask me, and I hope the groundsmen produce a better wicket for the semi-finals, with or without the assistance of the wind.

Our undefeated record remains unsullied, though England and New Zealand gave us strenuous work-outs. Watching television, I see that Kenya have beaten Zimbabwe easily. They will meet India in the semis, and we will have to meet either Sri Lanka, New Zealand or Zimbabwe. Without being disrespectful, I think the Lankans will beat Zimbabwe. So it all boils down to the India-Kiwi game. Since the semi-finals will be played at Port Elizabeth, Sri Lanka would be the more dangerous side. They have spin bowlers who will be able to use the slowness and softness of the wicket pretty well.

Once again Andy Bichel and Michael Bevan bailed us out on a wicket that was slow and did not suit batting too much. At 84 for seven, we were hoping to reach 150 at best, so every run in excess of that was a bonus, but the score of 208 looked pretty easy to defend.

While Bond bowled beautifully, I don't think Lee acquitted himself too badly in the pace bowlers' encounter. These are conditions in which reverse swing comes into the equation, and once the ball got old, Lee was lethal in the way he polished off the tail. It's interesting to note that the faster bowlers did all the damage on such a slow wicket. This shows that if you get it in the right places wickets will follow.

Lee is really looking ominous as the tournament progresses. He will be one of the key players if we get to play India in the final of this tournament. He is fast, and now he is reversing -- two things Indians don't like. Our bowling adjusted well to the conditions at St. George's Park, but our batsmen are still struggling a bit. Andrew Symonds, who is in great touch, will be back for the Durban game against Kenya, and he should help bolster the batting.

Eventually, what set the two sides apart was depth, both in batting and in bowling. The Kiwis have a long batting line-up but most of those guys have very little experience of playing outside of New Zealand. On the other hand, players like Bichel and Lee have played in various conditions and have the confidence to carry on even when the top order has not fired.

Similarly, in the bowling, once Shane Bond was bowled out by the 29th over, the rest of the New Zealand bowling looked pretty thin.

(Gameplan)

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Glenn McGrath