Preview: A lot will depend on Gayle and Pollard

South Africa have played West Indies four times in the World Cup and both sides have won two of the games. Unfortunately for the South Africans, their two losses did enough to make things difficult for them in those tournaments.

By Suneer Chowdhary

New Delhi: February 23, 2011

South Africa have played West Indies four times in the World Cup and both sides have won two of the games. Unfortunately for the South Africans, their two losses did enough to make things difficult for them in those tournaments one in the quarter-finals of 1996 and the other in the very first game of their home World Cup.

However, those were the heady days of Brian Lara and the others. Things have changed dramatically for West Indies and their supporters. One of the recent news that almost went unnoticed was regarding Bangladesh s overtaking of West Indies in the ICC s ODI Rankings, something that not too many would have thought would happen when they had almost won their third World Cup in a row in 1983. Almost.

These statistics are a reflection of reality. The last ODI that West Indies won against a currently Test-playing nation was way back in mid-2009 against India. Since then, they have lost ODI series to Bangladesh, Australia, South Africa and Sri Lanka without winning a single game. The 5-0 loss to South Africa was one of the worst in recent times and culminated with the loss of captaincy for Chris Gayle.

On the other hand, South Africa have gone from strength to strength. Usually, the World Cup is only won by one team and in a format as this; there is a decent likelihood that it could be any of the top teams. But if ever there was a side which has slipped under the radar because of their previous penchant to choke, it has to be South Africa.

And it is a surprise why. They will go into the game with Hashim Amla and Jacques Kallis being two of the best top-order players and if captain Graeme Smith, in his last edition as the captain, can get some of his own runs, South Africa will have a team to look out for.

The question is whether West Indies have the firepower in their bowling to stall the opposition. A look at their squad gives me the names of Kemar Roach and Sulieman Benn as the two could do some damage but the remaining bowlers could provide easy cannon fodder for the opposite batsmen.

And then, there is the case of the South African bowling. Multi-dimensional bowlers who possess the ability to test the batting with swing, pace and bounce and now, with the inclusion of Imran Tahir, even spin. While Tahir hasn t played international cricket, he will find the initiation to ODIs against a team like West Indies much easier than against the subcontinent sides. He will be the much-vaunted South African bowler and one to look out for but with the kind of pressure on him, it will be interesting to see how he goes if he does make it to the playing eleven.

South Africa s Achilles heel could be the balance of the side if Kallis makes it to the side as a pure batsman due to his injury. That will push the South African side to go in with that extra bowling all-rounder in Robin Peterson, making for an interesting combination.

Amidst the darkness, the one shred of light for West Indies is the combination of Gayle and Kieron Pollard. While the return of Ramnaresh Sarwan and him ensuing form will do them good, West Indies will require Pollard or Gayle or even both to provide them an impetus at the two ends of the innings the start and the end. Without that, beating South Africa can almost be discounted.

Teams:

South Africa (probable): Graeme Smith (c), Hashim Amla, Jacques Kallis, JP Duminy, AB de Villiers (wk), Colin Ingram, Robin Peterson/Imran Tahir, Johan Botha, Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel, Lonwabo Tsotsobe.

West Indies (probable): Chris Gayle, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Darren Bravo, Ramnaresh Sarwan, Kieron Pollard, Dwayne Bravo, Darren Sammy (c), Devon Thomas (wk), Kemar Roach, Suleiman Benn, Ravi Rampaul.

Umpires: Amiesh Saheba (India) and Simon Taufel (Australia)

Time: 14.30 local (09.00 GMT)

(Suneer is a Mumbai-based cricket writer and can be contacted at suneerchowdhary@gmail.com. His Twitter handle is @suneerchowdhary)

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