BOUCHER GOES HAMMER AND TONGS

Mark Boucher's 50 consumed only 26 balls and his thrill-a-minute hundred arrived in 44 balls, the second fastest in the ODIs.

Mark Boucher has been a combative wicket-keeper-batsman for South Africa. He is the man his team can look to in crisis. He has this reputation of being a good finisher.

Yet, he had not scored an ODI hundred in his previous 219 appearances for South Africa. When he finally accomplished the feat, he did so in a manner that was breathtaking.

The hapless Zimbabweans were blown away by the Boucher blitz in the final game of the three-match series at Potchefstroon. Boucher blazed away. True, openers Loots Bosman (88 in 70 balls) and Alviro Peterson (80 in 74) had powered the host to a hurricane start against an attack lacking in pace and precision.

However, it needs some doing to blast 147 off only 68 balls with 10 sixes and eight fours. Boucher's 50 consumed only 26 balls and his thrill-a-minute hundred arrived in 44 balls, the second fastest in the ODIs.

With Boucher striking the ball as never before, the host raced to 418 for five in 50 overs. The series had already been decided with South Africa winning the first two matches, but then, Boucher's pyrotechnics provided wholesale entertainment to the spectators. There were strokes in all directions. And some in the crowd were forced to take evasive action as the ball crashed into the stands.

Boucher had his share of luck too. He was put down as many as six times. It was one of those days when things wouldn't go wrong for him. Acknowledged Boucher, "It was one of those days, when whatever you swing at hits the middle of the blade. And whatever goes up in the air and goes to hand goes down." He added, "I've been striking the ball, a lot better than in the past. It's just a matter of getting the runs behind your name."

The Zimbabwean response — the side finished at 247 for four — was creditable considering the limitations of a severely depleted side. Terry Duffin made a fighting 88 and Hamilton Masakadsa, 55.

South African skipper Graeme Smith, nursing an ankle injury and catching the action from the sidelines, was pleased with the attitude shown by his batsmen. "It's fantastic to see how the guys played. It was nice to see them push themselves. In the years gone by, we would have been happy with 320 but we used the situation to take ourselves to a new level. We are also seeking to be more aggressive upfront."

Boucher's blitzkrieg was the highpoint of the series. His tally of 10 sixes was only one short of the all-time ODI record of eleven.

Jacques Kallis, who made runs, also had some more experience as captain. The left-handed Jean-Paul Duminy showed a compact technique and collected his runs without fuss, although stiffer tests await him against better attacks. Aggressive openers Bosman and Peterson could strengthen South Africa's bench in bigger competitions.

The South African paceman, swing bowler Charl Langerveldt, made a welcome return after being out of action due to injury. But he was not really tested by the Zimbabwean batsmen. The Zimbabwe pacemen, however, created at least one tense situation for South Africa. The host, chasing 202, was 33 for three in the first game at Bloemfontein. Boeta Dippenaar and Duminy then helped the team to reach the target.

Take this period of the first game away, and there was little in terms of competition in the series. The sides were mismatched. Not that Boucher was complaining!

THE RESULTS

Bloemfontein: Zimbabwe 201 for seven in 50 overs (Vusi Sibanda 51, Chamu Chibhabha 37, Hamilton Masakadsa 32) lost to South Africa 202 for five in 43.5 overs (Boeta Dippenaar 85 not out, Jean-Paul Duminy 60).

East London: Zimbabwe 152 in 49.4 overs (Chibhabha 38, Chigambura 30, Andrew Hall three for 23) lost to South Africa 156 for four in 27.4 overs (Loots Bosman 38, Duminy 31 not out).

Potchefstroon: South Africa 418 for five in 50 overs (Bosman 88, Alviro Peterson 80, Jacques Kallis 50, Mark Boucher 147) beat Zimbabwe 247 for four in 50 overs (Terry Duffin 88, Chibhabha 46, Masakadsa 55).

A Special Correspondent