By Abhaya Srivastava
New Delhi, Feb 23, 2011
South Africa will bank on their recent form and fitness of key player Jacques Kallis when they take on an upredictable West Indies in their opening World Cup clash.
The South Africans enter this Group B match on the back of 11 consecutive one-day wins against Ottis Gibson's side and a 3-2 series victory over India at home. With Kallis declaring himself fully fit and ready to resume his all-round duties, South Africa appear a formidable side.
But what Grame Smith's men should avoid is trying too hard to prove that they have left behind the baggage of their past and were capable of delivering the goods in crunch situations. The South Africans have perplexed their fans, showing an ability to play top-notch cricket but still leaving them waiting for a first World Cup.
South Africa's failure to qualify for the second round at home in 2003 cost Shaun Pollock the captaincy and his successor, Smith, led a largely lacklustre campaign in the West Indies in 2007. Although South Africa reached the semi-finals for the third time, it was no surprise when they were beaten by a strong Australian team.
"A lot is made in the media about the choker thing," said Kallis, playing his fifth World Cup. We don't even think about it. I think the media uses this tag far too often, in fact every time the team loses a match. They should go and look up the meaning of chokers in the dictionary first. This tag does not haunt us. Eleven of our 15 players will be playing their first World Cup so it's not something we are even thinking about."
The Proteas also boast a surprise weapon in Pakistan-born leg-spinner Imran Tahir, who gave a good account of himself in the practice matches. The West Indies will have their work cut out against their in-form opponents brimming with quality batsmen and bowlers. With two of their first-choice players ruled out due to injuries, the Caribbean side will look to the experienced members of the squad to inspire them to an upset win.
If the attacking Chris Gayle can give the side a flying start, it will make the job of Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Ramnaresh Sarwan down the order a lot easier. "The key is to get a good start," said Gayle. "We are playing one of the favourites in South Africa and they are a top quality side in both batting and bowling.
"We have to be on top of our game and capitalise on opportunities. They are beatable." Gayle's confidence likely stems from West Indies' record against South Africa on the big stage. The West Indies shocked South Africa in the 1996 World Cup quarter-finals and have done so twice in the Champions Trophy.
The day-night match will be played at the Feroz Shah Kotla ground, hosting its first international after being banned in 2009 for producing a dangerous pitch during an India-Sri Lanka one-dayer.