Stubbs and Miller dig South Africa out of a Dutch-induced hole

Vivian Kingma (Photo Credit Netherlands Cricket on X)

For a delirious quarter-hour in the Nassau County Stadium on Saturday it seemed as if the Netherlands might achieve the unthinkable, and defeat South Africa in a third successive World Cup encounter.

Defending a paltry 103 for nine, having been on the back foot and apparently outclassed for almost the whole of their own innings, the Dutch bit back, and suddenly the Proteas were on 12 for four, facing the battle of their lives.

The Nassau County drop-in pitch remains a surface most batters would prefer to avoid, but that should not detract from the skill with which the South African attack exploited the conditions after Aiden Markram had put the Netherlands in.

Ottneil Baartman, 31 and playing only his third T20I, was particularly effective, as his figures of four for 11 attest, but Marco Jansen, Anrich Nortje and Kagiso Rabada all played their part, and it was only a determined seventh-wicket stand of 54 between Sybrand Engelbrecht (40) and Logan van Beek (23) which enabled their side to reach a face-saving, three-figure total.

And then, mayhem.

Quinton de Kock ran himself out without facing a ball, looking for a single to fine leg that was never on, and standed mid-pitch when Reeza Hendricks sent him back.

If that was an unforced error, Hendricks was undone by a quality delivery from Van Beek, with just enough movement to beat the bat and clip the top of off stump.

Markram’s innings may have lasted only three balls, but it was nothing if not eventful: having survived an umpire review for caught behind off his second, jamming down on a Kingma delivery, he fell to the next, Edwards taking a superb catch diving to his left and just managing to get his glove under the ball.

That made it 3 for three in 15 deliveries, but worse was to follow for the Proteas as Heinrich Klaasen mistimed a pull off Kingma and Tim Pringle covered a lot of ground at deep square leg to pouch a very good low catch.

12 for four was South Africa’s worst-ever start in a T20I, and it was evident from the faces of their supporters that they saw a third shock defeat by the Netherlands looming.

But David Miller now joined Tristan Stubbs, a young man who had a season playing in the Dutch domestic competition in 2021 and who could have been wearing orange in this tournament had South Africa not made sure he opted for the Proteas’ green.

Steadily, Stubbs and Miller turned the game around, under no pressure from the scoreboard: it took fifty deliveries before Miller hit the first boundary of the innings, another 22 before he struck Pringle for six over long on.

It largely lacked the smash-bang-crash we associate with the T20 format, but with smart placements and good running the asking rate never rose much above six an over, and by the time Stubbs fell to another fine outfield catch, this time by Van Beek off De Leede, only 27 were needed from 22 balls.

He had made 33 from 37, and the partnership had produced 65 precious runs.

In the context of this game on this low-scoring ground 27 runs were not straightforward, and although Miller raised South African spirits by hitting Van Beek for six, three balls later the bowler angled one in past Jansen’s flailing bat and hit his middle stump.

Six down, 16 required, and 19 balls remaining.

Miller, though, was equal to the occasion, and when Bas de Leede bowled the next he pressed the accelerator, striking his first ball for six, the fourth for four to go past fifty, and then another six over square leg to finish the match.

Edwards’s men had fought all the way, Kingma (two for 12), Van Beek (two for 21). Paul van Meekeren (none for 13) and, until that final onslaught, De Leede rivalling the South African pace attack in discipline if not, after the powerplay, in incisiveness.

But 103 was never likely to be enough, and one fine partnership ensured that South Africa prevailed in the end.

So now it’s the Caribbean and the challenge of Bangladesh and Sri Lanka which confront the Dutch, once again gallant losers in New York but with the bowling unit at least able to hold their heads high. One more win just might be enough . . .

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