AB de Villiers' hundred to South Africa's rescue

AB de Villiers scored 107 not out off 105 balls.

By Jamie Alter

New Delhi: Feb 24, 2011

A rejigged South Africa had the best of West Indies in an uninspiring contest on an easy pitch, restricting them to 222 and then knocking off the runs thanks to AB de Villiers. It wasn t thrilling cricket, but it was sensible from South Africa and shoddy from West Indies, whose batsmen failed to step up and whose bowlers were committed but seldom piercing. A totally assured de Villiers notched up his third century in three innings on Indian soil, walking in at 20 for two and piloting the innings marvellously.

There were eyebrows raised when Graeme Smith included three spinners and opted to field, but the decision was vindicated. From a comfortable 113 for one, Darren Bravo s exit for a sparkling 72 was followed by West Indies imploding. There was finally an ODI debut for Imran Tahir, the Pakistan-born, county cricket-enhanced legspinner, and he justified his inclusion with four wickets.

Graeme Smith s ploy to open with Johan Botha worked a charm. Botha got one to drift and turn sharply to take Chris Gayle s outside edge third ball, and South Africa were ecstatic. That was followed by the one passage of play that West Indies dominated. It was too brief.

Darren Bravo s driving and cutting has been eerily reminiscent of Brian Lara, but today his wristy flourishes through the leg-side were equally prominent. Dale Steyn was effortlessly clipped for fours and driven on the up past cover, while Jacques Kallis was dismissively slapped off the back foot twice. Morne Morkel was driven straight and heaved for boundaries, and Tahir was welcomed to ODI cricket with a flowing six.

However, South Africa soon wised up: Graeme Smith shuffled his spinners, the off-side field was fortified and Darren Bravo s drives weren t as effective. Boundaries dried up and a crafty choke quickly fell into place: spin, some bounce, not much flight, and a cordon of alert fielders hurried the batsmen into their shots. Darren Bravo had little issues against the faster men and Tahir, but Robin Peterson bogged him before the batsman fell lbw to Botha.

The first of two dramatic collapses followed. Devon Smith struggled against Tahir especially, and eventually chipped a return catch. Ramnaresh Sarwan had little time to settle before he was sent on his way for two, after missing a one that turned slightly from leg. Three wickets had fallen for three runs.

A brief fight-back followed, sparked by Dwayne Bravo s fluent hitting, but in true West Indian fashion, a manic collapsed ensued. Dwayne Bravo was run out needlessly, Shivnarine Chanderpaul attempted one hit too many and gave Tahir his third, and Kieron Pollard lasted one ball struck stone dead in front by Steyn. With just two deliveries left in Tahir s quota, Devon Thomas injudiciously slogged into the sky, followed by Steyn nailing Sammy for 0. Suleiman Benn was left to throw the bat around in the batting Powerplay, but didn t last long before he became Steyn s third wicket.

When West Indies took two early wickets, there was hope this would be a contest. Hashim Amla was excellently held by Thomas off Kemar Roach, and Kallis edged a lovely delivery from Benn straight to slip. West Indies were jubilant, but their celebrations didn t last long.

Kallis wicket brought de Villiers to the crease, and he was away with three gorgeous boundaries off Roach: a push, a square-drive and a twirl off the stumps. Those three shots set the tone, and a withering cover-drive then suggested that this was one-way traffic.

West Indies lost the services of Dwayne Bravo who twisted his knee while bowling and had to leave the field. After Sammy and Gayle had stemmed the tide for a couple overs, it was de Villiers who once again unleashed with an off-driven boundary. His timing and placement were excellent, and the ball went along the ground more often than not. When he did go aerial, de Villiers shots were precise and cleared the circle with ease.

Graeme Smith, scratchy early on, was ready to bide his time. Though it didn t always come his way, Smith was quick to go after anything that was a bit wide, slanting and angling his bat to get the ball through cover-point and third man. Smith s wicket, bowled by Pollard, ended a 119-run stand but de Villiers and JP Duminy finished the work effortlessly. Duminy sized up the situation, stole quick runs and got through some tight overs. At the other end, de Villiers boomed drives through the off side and thumped over midwicket as he soared to a superb century. During the 2007 World Cup, de Villiers thumped an excellent century against West Indies. Four years on, it was a similar tale.

Brief Scores: West Indies 222 all out in 47.3 overs (Darren Bravo 73, Dwayne Bravo 40, Devon Smith 36; Imran Tahir 4 for 41, Dale Steyn 3 for 24) lost to South Africa 223 for 3 in 42.5 overs (AB de Villiers 107*, Graeme Smith 45; Kieron Pollard 1 for 37, Kemar Roach 1 for 42) by 7 wickets.

(Jamie Alter is a freelance cricket writer, having worked at ESPNcricinfo and All Sports Magazine.His first book, The History of World Cup Cricket, is out now.)

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