An unusually bold team selection and a clinical bowling performance enabled South Africa to overcome a West Indies side in their opening fixture of the ICC Cricket World Cup 2011. It was evident both the teams were raring to go and wrest the initiative.
South Africa captain Graeme Smith won the toss and decided to field first. In a bold and surprising selection, they decided to leave out their in-form seamer – Lonwabo Tsotsobe – and bring in the uncapped but highly rated leg-spinner Imran Tahir. It turned out to be an inspired move as well. Never before had South Africa played a match with three specialist spinners in their playing eleven.
Smith made another bold move by opting to open the attack with a spinner – Johan Botha. His off-breaks immediately paid rich dividends for them. In only the third ball of the over, Botha got to turn the ball away from the dangerous Chris Gayle. Gayle only succeeded in edging the ball to first slip where Jacques Kallis took a good catch.
Devon Smith was joined by the young Darren Bravo at the crease. It was clear immediately that Bravo was a batsman with a lot of promise. He has been compared to the legendary Brian Lara so early in his career, but the only similarity I saw with Lara was the high backlift when going through with this shots. One shot summed up the fact that Bravo was a thinking cricketer – Jacques Kallis bowled a short ball which the batsman realized cannot be pulled the traditional way so he made a slight adjustment and pulled the ball over the mid-on region.
Smith and Bravo slowly but steadily accumulated the runs. They attacked the seamers realizing that the spinners would be a different proposition. 111 runs were added in the partnership when Bravo played a poor shot against Botha and was trapped in front of the crease. This was just the breakthrough that South Africa needed. They followed this up with another wicket in the very next over. Imran Tahir, who was expensive in his first spell, came on for a second and foxed Smith with a flighted delivery which he only succeeded in returning back to the bowler whose joy knew no bounds.
Ramanaresh Sarwan did not last long as he was trapped in front by another flighted Tahir delivery. From 113/1, West Indies had slid to 120/4 but recovered to 178 through the ever-reliable Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Darren Bravo’s elder brother – Dwayne Bravo. A horrendous run-out ended the partnership just when it was threatening to grow. There just was no chance of a run on that occasion. They soon slid to 222 all out in the face of some attacking bowling by Tahir and Dale Steyn who polished off the tail. Tahir finished with an impressive 4 wickets for 41 runs on his ODI debut.
South Africa’s chase was wobbly as Kemar Roach got Hashim Amla with a delivery that nipped back and drew the inside edge for wicket-keeper Devon Thomas to take diving to his left. Soon after, Jacques Kallis fell to a beautiful piece of bowling from the left arm spinner Sulieman Benn. Benn got the ball to turn and got an outside edge from Kallis’ bat which the West Indies captain Darren Sammy pouched at slip. It seemed that West indies were making a good effort with the ball.
AB De Villiers, another promising young man, strode out to join his captain at the crease. It was evident he was not going to waste any time getting his eye in. Three boundaries in an over of Roach – a push kind of shot and two gorgeous drives square of the wicket – signalled the fact that it would not be easy for the bowlers to contain this explosive batsman.
Smith supported De Villiers in a crucial stand of 119 runs. De Villiers brought up his fifty with a six of Gayle and followed that up with an even bigger six against Benn. Smith was dismissed against the run of play as he was bowled by Kieron Pollard. JP Duminy and De Villiers continued the good work for South Africa with a match-winning partnership of 84 runs during the course of which De Villiers got to his century – his second in World Cups. South Africa had plenty of overs left when they won the match by 7 wickets.
The bold moves were inspirational for South Africa who will have to determine whether to stick to this winning formula in the coming matches as well. Their batting looks assured and the calm manner in which they chased under lights was a good sign. On the other hand West Indies did not up the ante after the initial two wickets and paid the price. They have some injury concerns as Dwayne Bravo seemed to have hurt his knee badly. The batsmen will have to play around Darren Bravo and Chanderpaul who looked the most comfortable against South Africa’s bowlers.