Anrich Nortje’s Stellar Performance Secures South Africa’s 6 Wickets Victory on Challenging New York Pitch

South Africa clinched victory over Sri Lanka, chasing a modest target of 78 runs on a tricky pitch at Eisenhower Park, New York in a thrilling start to the T20 World Cup.

This inaugural T20I match at the newly established stadium revealed much about the challenging conditions, characterized by inconsistent bounce and expansive square boundaries. South Africa had a difficult time reaching the target of 78 due to the uneven surface, but they did so in the 17th over.

Anrich Nortje’s Stellar Performance Secures South Africa’s 6 Wickets Victory on Challenging New York Pitch
Keshav Maharaj grabbed back to back wickets •Getty Images

Sri Lanka 77 (Nortje 4-7, Rabada 2-21, Maharaj 2-22, Baartman 1-9) lost to South Africa 80 for 4 (De Kock 20, Hasaranga 2-22, Shanaka 1-6) by six wickets.

In a commanding manner, South Africa claimed their first two points in the T20 World Cup after bowling Sri Lanka out for the lowest total ever in the format and needing to chase 78 runs in 17 overs. We learned more about the conditions at the inaugural official Twenty20 International match played at Eisenhower Park’s freshly constructed stadium than any of the two teams. It’s challenging to bat on this surface because of its uneven bounce, lack of turn, and large, difficult-to-cross square boundaries.

After opting to bat first, Sri Lanka found themselves quickly behind. They scored 40 for 5, their lowest ten-over total, while their powerplay produced just 24 runs. The four-seam approach of South Africa was disciplined, went fuller upfront, altered pace efficiently, and rapidly adjusted to the changing conditions. Anrich Nortje was their star player, putting on his greatest show since coming back from a stress fracture that kept him out of the international game for nearly nine months.

With a career-best 4 for 7, Nortje demonstrated exceptional pace, reaching speeds of up to 150 kph, and skillfully utilized the slower ball. Ottneil Baartman, a World Cup rookie, was a great addition to the team. He bowled 20 dot balls in all, which is tied with Ajantha Mendis’ record for the most bowlers in an innings in a T20 World Cup (2012), against Zimbabwe.

Only three Sri Lankan batsmen reached double digits as a result of the combined efforts of the South Africans, and just one partnership, Dasun Shanaka and Angelo Mathews’ seventh-wicket stand, was worth more than 20. They will regret missing out on another twenty or thirty runs, as that could have put South Africa in a very difficult situation. In the thirteenth over, with 58 for 4, 100 would have been a difficult ask, but 78 was doable. With 22 balls remaining, David Miller and Heinrich Klaasen drove them home.

The batters faced 214 balls in this game, and 127 of them were dots—the most number of dots in a Men’s T20 World Cup match.

Baartman is a real-life example of how dreams may come true. He played cricket for ten years in the domestic system without much recognition and even considered quitting to join the South African National Defence Force. However, in the final, Marco Jansen outscored him and was called up to the South African Twenty20 World Cup squad.

He had never left South Africa until last month, yet you would never have known if the enormity of the event had taken over him. When Baartman was handed the ball in the fourth over, he saw the lengths Jansen was using and hit his first ball full and wide. Pathum Nissanka saw an opening to clear deep third, but Heinrich Klaasen got a thick edge, making Baartman the first bowler from South Africa, and the 18th overall, to capture a wicket with his first ball in a World Cup.

Also Read: Chase Leads West Indies to Tense Victory Over Papua New Guinea in T20 World Cup 2024

Anrich Nortje’s Stellar Performance Secures South Africa’s 6 Wickets Victory on Challenging New York Pitch
Anrich Nortje finished with the figure of 4 for 7 off his four overs •Associated Press

The stats—11 T20 matches since returning from a stress fracture in March, 40 overs, 449 runs, and nine wickets—might have suggested that selecting Nortje was a gamble, but Rob Walter, the coach, didn’t think so. He supported Nortje’s choice because of his natural pace and capacity for variation, and Nortje amply demonstrated why he was right.

After the powerplay, Nortje, who was brought on as the fifth bowler, did what his fellow quicks did and resisted the short ball for longer lengths. Kamindu Mendis attempted to flick him over square leg with his fifth delivery, but the effort lacked force and found Reeza Hendricks instead.

Kusal Mendis attempted to clear a ball at 150 kph over the large square boundary, but Tristan Stubbs caught him looking directly into the sun. Angelo Mathews was hurried into the hook shot and top-edged by Charith Asalanka, who proceeded in the same manner as Kamindu. Nortje completed with perfect 4 for 7 results.

In 2014, Aiden Markram led South Africa to victory in the Under-19 World Cup. Mathews participated in the 2014 T20 World Cup winning Sri Lankan team. And there was something unique about them playing each other in the third over of South Africa’s innings because neither of them, nor their nations, have experienced international success since. With length balls on off stump, Mathews managed the exchange before issuing a warning. He discovered a seam movement that struck Markram on the box at a speed of about 120 kph.

Markram received the medical attention he required and handled the next two balls with dignity. Dasun Shanaka came in to replace Mathews after he took a single off the final delivery, ruining what would have been a perfect over. When Shanaka squared Markram up with a delivery that sailed away, took the outside edge, and was superbly taken low down by Kusal Mendis at wide first slip, that delivered Sri Lanka the prize they had been waiting for.

With just three fours and three sixes in Sri Lanka’s innings and the same amount from South Africa, there weren’t many to pick from, making the match a) an antidote to the IPL and b) a game of tension-filled old-fashioned grind. What remained vanished when Wanindu Hasaranga was blasted over long-on by Heinrich Klaasen, who was undoubtedly the best boundary hitter in the competition, and then he hammered straight down the ground for six and then four to virtually conclude the match.

South Africa will be hoping to see a lot more of Klaasen’s skill as the tournament progresses, as he demonstrated with those two shots the strength and quality of the foundation from which he knocks the ball. It was sufficient to ensure victory for today.

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