Gibbs and Smith ease concerns with return to form

Zimbabwe 174-8 South Africa 175-1 South Africa win by 9 wickets
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The Independent Online

The South African captain Graeme Smith and his opening partner, Herschelle Gibbs, were the main beneficiaries of the team's fleeting visit to the principality. Before Saturday's thumping nine-wicket victory over Zimbabwe, South Africa's only concern in the NatWest Series would have been the form of their openers who, in three matches, had accumulated a scratchy 55 runs between them. However, following their 154-run partnership here, the tourists can now travel to Birmingham for tomorrow's game against England confident that all areas of their game are in good working order.

The unbeaten 93 which earned Gibbs the Man of the Match award may have started in an unconvincing manner but by the end of his 97-ball stay he was back to his dynamic best. Before scoring a run the attacking right-hander had the first of two let-offs when he survived a legitimate caught-behind appeal off Heath Streak. His second came on 18 when he was bowled by an Andy Blignaut no-ball. Following these lucky escapes the 29-year-old grew in confidence and his return to form was highlighted by a cut shot over cover-point for six.

Smith was in equal need of, and would have been just as grateful for, some quality time in the middle. Tall and strong, the South African captain is not a pretty player to watch but when he strikes the ball it stays hit. The left-hander has some technical faults which England will hope to expose in the coming weeks but he is a determined young man who attempts to lead from the front. His only disappointment would have been getting out before his side passed the 174 runs they required for victory.

Smith's first important role in an uninspiring day's cricket was winning the toss. Under grey skies and in front of a sparse crowd he decided to bowl first on a pitch that offered considerable help to seamers and spinners alike. Shaun Pollock's line and length were as immaculate as ever but it was his fast-bowling colleagues who inflicted the early damage on Zimbabwe. For large parts of Zimbabwe's tour Streak has been fighting a lone battle and following the loss of Grant Flower for 26 and with the score on 92 for 6, this was another of those occasions.

This proud man once again managed to give his side an outside chance of salvaging something from the unlikeliest of positions but in reality his innings of 54 only delayed the inevitable.