On Saturday 13th June the West Indies take on South Africa, their 2nd match in two days. After their convincing win over India earlier today this contest could be said to be a matchup between the pre-tournament favorites and the in-form team. The South Africans have yet to be tested, even after playing their first Super Eight match, in which the English never seemed to push them at any stage. During their first round group matches the win over Scotland could scarcely have been called practice and the New Zealand victory had as much to do with the Kiwis inability to close as to the South African bowling.
West Indies by contrast have come into this stage of the tournament by the completely opposite route. In their three matches so far they have played teams ranked far above them in the current rankings and have won against the defending T20 champions, India. Their only failing was against the Sri Lankans after they were already through to the Super Eight stage. By their showing against Australia they made it known that they can dominate a match with their batting. The result today showed that it would be unwise to ever count them out at any stage of the match.
The South Africans have been tipped by many to win this tournament. Whether this tag will serve as inspiration for their first major international title or a case of putting too much pressure on a notoriously nervous side remains to be seen. For all the wealth of talent South Africa has produced since they were re-admitted into cricket in the early 1990’s they are yet to reach a major international final. They have been unkindly, but not without basis, referred to as perpetual semi finalists. This is a tag they will be desperate to shake off and the current team has the talent but more importantly, they appear to have a stronger desire than the previous South African teams.
The West Indies have not come in with such high expectations. They arrive on the back of a poor tour of England and in reality if not for statements suggesting 20/20 is their preferred format would have had no expectations put on them at all. With the performances over the last week such statements are largely forgotten by the majority of fans who are all too happy to see West Indian success. The question that needs answering is whether the notoriously fickle consistency of the West Indies will hold.
As definitive as today’s win was, it should be noted that for this West Indian side it does not guarantee that the same level of play will be carried forward to tomorrow. The momentum is firmly with them though and it would be best to use it to carry them as far forward in this tournament as it can. Playing two matches on consecutive days should facilitate the maintaining of such momentum, but whether fatigue set into their game is another issue.
In this tournament Jacques Kallis is yet to fail as an opener, a new role for him but one which he relishes. After initially being ignored for 20/20 internationals as not aggressive enough he seems to play all his innings with the intent of disproving such a claim. Graeme Smith has also scored runs in this tournament and his strength coupled with his preference for leg-side shots with a heavy bottom hand make him a difficult prospect for any opening bowler. Herschelle Gibbs has only one score over 20 for the tournament so far and the only man to hit six sixes in an ODI over will be looking for a chance to rectify that. He has scored runs against the West Indies in the past and could a deciding factor could be whether he makes runs or not.
Duminy and Morkel are capable of clearing the rope easily as they have both shown already. The problem for South Africa is they have a propensity to get out before long knocks. In theory 20/20 the shortest version of the game should be the perfect format for them to be able to show their power hitting. If allowed to get a start them they could conceivably swing the game away from the West Indies even in a short time at the crease. AB de Villiers as he showed against Scotland is capable of hitting very large sixes as well as beautifully timed shots to the boundary. His unorthodox shots rattled the Scottish bowlers and it will be interesting to see if this happens to bowlers of a class higher than the associate nations.
Mark Boucher is capable of rebuilding an innings as well as hitting the ball to the boundary , meaning the West Indies should realize that once he is their the innings is far from over. The frontline bowlers have not had much opportunity to bat other than a completely unsuccessful attempt to promote van der Merwe to # 4.
Fidel Edwards was fast and accurate during his opening spell and also during the death overs. Jerome Taylor was also accurate with the new ball as both opening bowlers made good use of the short ball. If the pitch provides as much assistance as the one today then the same tactic could be employed but it should be noted that the South Africans are competent players of pace and are far more accustomed to it than the Indian batsmen. Taylor’s second spell in fact was defined by the overuse of the short ball, most of which were put away by Yuvraj Singh. It is a question worth asking as to whether he should bowl his 4 over spell unchanged.
Chris Gayle was economic in his 3 overs and it would be worthwhile to considering bowling his full quota of overs. This becoming even more relevant when one takes into account that Benn is a more effective bowler during the first ten overs of the game. Keiron Pollard bowled restrictively in his two overs but this was more due to India being in a rebuilding phase of their innings. If South Africa do not lose quick wickets then when would he be brought on to bowl? Dwanye Bravo remains peerless as a death bowler as he showed again today and his ability to pick up key wickets will be decisive once he continues to do it.
The South African opening bowlers are a contrast in styles; Parnell is a left hander capable of moving the ball off the pitch and maintaining a consistent line. This accuracy makes him a lethal bowler in the last overs, as he showed against England, since his yorkers are a difficult prospect for many batsmen. Dale Steyn is very fast but has shown he also possess variations which are difficult to detect. Because his arm action shows almost no perceptible change the West Indian batsmen will have to be very wary of his slower ball.
Kallis, much like the opening bowlers, remains economical while being a consistent threat. His bowling always attacks the stumps and very seldom gives away runs. This coupled with the fact that the bowling attack in general seldom leaks runs might be the pressure which the undoing of a batsman. Van der Merwe remains South Africa’s most economical bowler and in tandem with Botha should be difficult to get away. The West Indian weakness with spin bowling has been well documented but the way they played the Indian spinners leaves hope that such weakness is in the past.
As always, the impact of Gayle is vital. What is different after today’s win is that it is not essential. The West Indies have won even with Gayle not playing a major part and this should instill confidence in the rest of the batting lineup to all play their part. Simmons played well in his second match after having problems initially with his timing. The arrival of Bravo to the crease sparked him into action and was the beginning of the successful run chase.
Bravo has carried on from his successful IPL stint and the energy when he came out to bat was immediately apparent. The West Indies running picked up tremendously while the hitting was clean and unhurried. The pacing of the run chase was done to perfection by Bravo and so allowed Chanderpaul to be able to play his usual inventive strokes. This should be a much needed confidence boost for Chanderpaul who looked to be struggling in earlier games and Sarwan has enough experience to hold the innings together if needed.
The factor that matters most in this game is if the West Indies can maintain the high standard of fielding that they showed against India. They dropped two catches but in general the level of ground fielding was high and even the catches that were taken were very good, exemplified by Lendl Simmons catch to remove Gambhir. As well as they fielded they should be expected to improve since one catch that was dropped was Yuvraj who went on to produce a fine knock. They may not always be able to make up for such dropped chances in the future. It is important that West Indies maintain the energy that they have shown in the field if they are to have a chance of keeping the pressure on South Africa and therefore restrict them during their innings.