The host is rusty

South Africans Boeta Dippenaar (below) and Graeme Smith (facing page, top) added 109 runs for the fourth wicket, both getting half-centuries in the process.-Pics. AP South Africans Boeta Dippenaar (below) and Graeme Smith (facing page, top) added 109 runs for the fourth wicket, both getting half-centuries in the process.

THE beleaguered South Africans faced worrying questions after their 118-run win over Canada at East London. The top-order collapsed, catches were put down, and the Canadians even managed to last 50 overs.

THE beleaguered South Africans faced worrying questions after their 118-run win over Canada at East London. The top-order collapsed, catches were put down, and the Canadians even managed to last 50 overs.

The enormous pressure on the South Africans to perform was all too evident in this group `B' clash. During normal times, the Canadians would have been sent packing in double quick time. Now, the Proteas were huffing and puffing.

"No one has ever won the World Cup in their home country before. So the pressure is there that way," admitted Pollock on the eve of the group `B' contest.

The Proteas had arrived at East London following a two-day break from World Cup duties, allowing them to spend more time with their families. The move, it was felt, would leave them mentally refreshed for the crucial battles ahead but there was little evidence of this on the field of play.

Before the do-or-die clash against the Sri Lankans, the South Africans also required to give a boost to the net run-rate, in case of more than two sides finishing with equal number of points, and Canada presented an opportunity to accomplish just that.

The ideal scenario for South Africa would have been to win the toss, insert Canada, bowl it out cheaply, and get the runs in a jiffy. It did not quite work that way, with Canadian skipper Joe Harris calling right.

In fact, the South Africans were off a disastrous start, Herschelle Gibbs, Gary Kirsten and Jacques Kallis all gone, and the score was only 23. The Canadians, delighted at the unexpected inroads, were cock-a-hoop.

It was Canada's debutant medium pacer Ashish Patel, managing to achieve movement in the air, and settling down into a nice rhythm, who got the in-form Gibbs nicking to 'keeper Aashish Bagai. Kallis then perished to a pull, Nick Ifill making no mistake with the catch at mid-wicket.

In between the two strikes by Patel, Joseph Davis, still able to generate some speed at 39, had combined with Bagai to signal the end of the experienced Gary Kirsten, who failed to open his account. The South Africans innings was in tatters. Would Canada be able to ambush the home side?

And, had captain Harris pouched Boeta Dippenaar at slip off Davis — the South Africans were only 40 at this stage — the innings would have been in an even deeper mess. As it transpired, Dippenaar and opener Graeme Smith added valuable 109 runs for the fourth wicket, putting the Proteas back on the rails.

Dippenaar drove the ball well and Smith, back again in the side after missing out against Bangladesh, produced some punishing strokes off his legs. Smith made 63 (79b, 6x4) before John Davison, bowling a tidy spell of off-spin, castled him with a delivery that held its line.

Dippenaar (80, 118b, 7x4) appeared on course for a hundred when he swept the medium pace of Nicholas de Groot into fine leg's hands. It had been a valuable innings by him when his side, desperately trying to keep afloat, needed the runs.

The Proteas managed to cross the 250-run mark, after useful contributions from Mark Boucher, Shaun Pollock and Andrew Hall. Still this was a grossly unsatisfactory score against the Canadians, who, to their credit, operated with discipline.

If the South African batting had not been inspiring, what followed in the afternoon was worse, with as many as five catches being put down, in what must go down as one of the worst displays on the field by the Proteas.

John Davison departed early, prised out by Makhaya Ntini, and after this punishing opener's departure, it was clear that the Canadians, with much firepower in batting, would be happy to play through the overs.

It was also evident how loss of confidence could affect every aspect of a side's game. The Canadians could have been bundled out for less than 100, instead they ended up at 136 for five in 50 overs. Opener Ishwar Maraj, put down four times, remained unbeaten with 53 (155b, 6x4) to become only the eighth opener to bat through 50 overs of a World Cup match.

Skipper Shaun Pollock and Ntini were threatening in South Africa's attack, but the same could not be said of the others. Allan Donald, with Pollock backing him, returned for the game, and though he was restrictive, the old warhorse was hardly inspiring. And young paceman Monde Zondeki did not exactly set the stadium alight.

Ironically, this was a game where the losing side would have been happier than the winning one. The Proteas had much hard work ahead of them.

The scores:

South Africa: G. Smith b Davison 63; H. Gibbs c Bagai b Patel 8; G. Kirsten c Bagai b Joseph 0; J. Kallis c Ifill b Patel 1; B. Dippenaar c Seebaran b De Groot 80; M. Boucher b De Groot 21; S. Pollock c Bagai b Joseph 32; A. Hall (not out) 22; M. Ntini b Patel 14; M. Zondeki not out 1. Extras (lb-3, w-8, nb-1) 12. Total (for eight wkts. in 50 overs) 254.

Fall of wickets: 1-19, 2-22, 3-23, 4-132, 5-174, 6-197, 7-227, 8-249.

Canada bowling: Joseph 9-1-42-2, Patel 7-0-41-3, Ifill 7-0-35-0, Davison 10-1-45-1, Seebaran 10-0-43-0, De Groot 7-0-45-2.

Canada: I. Maraj (not out) 53; J. Davison c Zondeki b Ntini 1; D. Chumney c Smith b Pollock 2; I. Billcliff b Zondeki 9; N. De Groot c Boucher b Hall 16; J. Harris c Boucher b Ntini 15; A. Bagai (not out) 28. Extras (lb-6, w-4, nb-2) 12. Total (for five wkts. in 50 overs) 136.

Fall of wickets: 1-2, 2-8, 3-28, 4-58, 5-84.

South Africa bowling: Pollock 8-5-13-1, Ntini 10-2-19-2, Donald 10-2-27-0, Zondeki 9-1-24-1, Hall 7-1-26-1, Kallis 5-1-11-0, Smith 1-0-10-0.