Preview: West Indies, South Africa rely heavily on top order

Where ICC tournaments are concerned, South Africa and West Indies generally donât do dull one-day matches.

By Jamie Alter

 

New Delhi: February 23, 2011

 

Where ICC tournaments are concerned, South Africa and West Indies generally don’t do dull one-day matches. And so, it is with a degree of history and anticipation that the two sides square off in Delhi tomorrow, no matter what the statisticians tell you about the teams on paper.

 

In the inaugural ICC Champions Trophy in 1998 – then called the Wills International Cup – South Africa won the final in Dhaka by four wickets with 18 balls remaining. In the 1996 World Cup quarter-finals, Brian Lara’s excellent century downed South Africa. In the 2002 Champions Trophy, South Africa snatched a sensational two-wicket victory off the very last ball in Colombo. In the World Cup opener of 2003, Brian Lara again took a century off the hosts as West Indies won a close game by three runs. At The Oval in 2004, West Indies edged into the semi-finals courtesy of a rescue operation from their batsmen after rain had forced the match to spill over into the reserve day.

 

In the inaugural ICC World Twenty20 in 2007, Chris Gayle became the first man to score a century in Twenty20 cricket as he propelled West Indies to a score that has not been bettered in the format. Two years later, South Africa had their revenge by 20 runs at The Oval.

 

The only easy margins of victory were back in 1992, when South Africa beat West Indies by 64 runs in a low-scorer in Christchurch, in 2006 when Chris Gayle hammered his third century of the Champions Trophy to launch the defending champions into the final again, and in 2007, when South Africa racked up 356 and won by 67 runs at St George’s. But even these three matches had plenty of subtext and drama.

 

In 2011, it’s a measure of West Indies’ stature in ODIs – they are ranked No. 9, below Bangladesh – that they enter a World Cup uncertain of making it to the second round. A team with the legacy of two World Cup titles, three finals, one semi-final and one quarter-final has dipped so dramatically that sides such as Ireland and Netherlands fancy their chances of beating them.

 

Pitted against India, South Africa, England, Bangladesh, Ireland and Netherlands in Group B, they will have to play very good cricket to gain a spot in the quarter-finals. West Indies haven’t had the best of years in ODIs, losing 10 of 17 matches played in 2010; their batting has floundered repeatedly and they have been bowled out for less than 175 thrice, once for 199, and once for 215. This is a team in something of a rebuilding stage – the bitter contracts row forced West Indies to field a B-team for against Bangladesh and at the 2009 Champions Trophy – and instead of relying on new faces the powers that be accepted most of the experienced players back in the fold. The likes of Gayle, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Ramnaresh Sarwan and Dwayne Bravo are invaluable to West Indies.

 

Both teams rely heavily on the top order. If Gayle and Darren Bravo can provide some sort of platform for Sarwan, Chanderpaul, Kieron Pollard and Dwayne Bravo, West Indies can push South Africa. Gayle has tipped himself for a strong tournament”: “I want to be the best all-rounder of the World Cup” – and considering his record against South Africa in ICC tournaments he is the strongest chance they have of toppling their opponents. But when Gayle fails, it appears to have a deflating effect on those that follow.

 

South Africa look a very good side, and one determined to finally shed the chokers’ tag. They are most reliant on Jacques Kallis who, along with Australia’s Shane Watson, is one of two players carry the burden of lifting an entire team. Kallis is also the most experienced South African, with this World Cup being his fifth. The batting carries a lot of weight at the top, with Graeme Smith, Hashim Amla, Kallis and AB de Villiers – who doubles up as wicketkeeper – followed by JP Duminy. Thereafter, it gets thin with Colin Ingram and Faff du Plessis still rookies and the lower order not to good. In the bowling, the big question mark is over South Africa’s spin quotient, with Johan Botha and Robin Peterson unlikely to run through sides and Imran Tahir an unknown commodity. South Africa don’t have any injury worries, so they are able to field their strongest side.

 

Inconsistency has become the motif of this West Indies side, so it will be particularly interesting to see which team blinks first when the pressure starts to build.

 

The Feroz Shah Kotla pitch has been the subject of much discussion since the teams arrived here, but neither captain has made any statements to indicate how it will play. The venue was suspended as an international ground following the abandonment of an ODI between India and Sri Lanka in December 2009, and was closely monitored by the ICC. It was only reinstated as an international venue in November 2010 and the ICC expressed its pleasure with the remedial work carried out and felt the playing surfaces were now back to the standard expected for international matches.  

 

Teams:

 

South Africa (probable): Graeme Smith (c), Hashim Amla, Jaques Kallis, AB de Villiers (wk), JP Duminy, Colin Ingram, Johan Botha, Robin Peterson, Wayne Parnell, Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel.

 

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

 

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

 

Time: 14.30 local (09.00 GMT)

 

(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.)

 

Pictures © Getty Images