The rain has gone away and AB has duly completed his 100. This World Cup has already seen a few -- but run for run, AB's knock is up there with the best on view, if only for the sheer scintillating quality of strokeplay on offer.
The Proteas are at the time of writing this 16 runs away from the target. This game is done, and so am I.
Back tomorrow, live on the blog, for our first real look at the Aussies as they take on New Zealand. See you then.
And the only difference it really makes is to de Villiers, who at the time of writing this, with SA 199/3 in 38, is 3 short of a superlative century. With the Proteas way ahead on the Duckworth-Lewis table, and in actual fact just 24 shy with 12 overs to go, this game is done and dusted.
There were two moments when it looked like we could have a contest. The first was when Darren Bravo was lighting up the field with his batting; the second, when two Proteas batsmen went back into the hut with startling rapidity.
Outside of that, this game was as one-sided as it gets at this level. The official Yahoo match report will likely have more on all of this, but for now, my quick takes on the two teams:
The West Indies, with the bat, appear to have found a new star; figuring out how to bat around him, how to use the skills of Gayle, Bravo (currently rendered hors d'combat) and Pollard to break games open, and finding the right role for Chanderpaul will need to be their priorities.
With the ball, it is a whole other story -- barring Roach and Benn, they really have nothing in their arsenal to consistently trouble top teams. You can't win tournaments in these conditions with a parade of line and length bowlers -- unless your batsmen give you well in excess of 300 each time out. That's not a gameplan, as much as it is wishful thinking -- might work once, twice, but there is no way of guaranteeing it will work every time, especially in the crunch games.
In contrast, it is difficult to find a single chink in the Proteas armor just now. Amla and Kallis had off days and Smith was reduced to scratching around -- but against that, de Villiers seems in devastating form; Duminy looked good during his stint, and man for man SA seems capable of matching with the bat anything any opposition can throw at them.
It is with the ball though that SA really impresses -- three quality spinners, two high quality quick bowlers and one quality seam-bowling all rounder is almost an embarrassment of riches. Add to that the best all-round fielding side in the competition, and a captain seemingly willing to go outside the paint by numbers captaincy style patented by the Proteas and to mix things up, and this side looks almost too good to be true. (Imagine what those spinners can do defending a decent target on the kind of turners we are apt to get as this competition heads into the business end).
If one caveat remains, it is in the mental side of things -- SA is great at winning regular games; it is in the knock out stages that their mental frailties get the better of them. But that's in the future -- the distant future, considering how much of make up the numbers games there remain to be played before things get serious. For now, the Proteas are clearly the team to beat.
South Africa: Overs 31-35: 185/3; Duminy 22 off 24; de Villiers 89 off 87
Like seasoned middle distance runners, the Proteas pulled away beautifully during this phase, scoring 10 in the 31st off Pollard; 9 in the 32nd off Roach; 7 in the next when Benn came on for Pollard; 8 in the 34th off Sammy; and 4 in the 35th, off Benn. In other words, it's gone from a jog to a canter. And the home stretch is in sight -- 37 to get, 15 overs to get them in.
They did this without any kind of flourish, and largely thanks to having the two best runners between wickets out in the middle. AB and Duminy are both electric-heeled; as a pair, they are too much for even the best fielding sides to handle, and the Windies with a mix of good fielders and slow movers has its share of problems in the field.
For their part, the West Indies game plan was the only one left: to hope. Sammy rotated his bowlers after one over each, hoping for that moment of inspiration; the bowlers kept it within the wickets as much as they could, hoping for moments of South African madness. Didn't work -- AB was too good, and Duminy too determined, to give the fielding side a glimmer.
Okay, next update after the game is over.
South Africa: Overs 26-30: 147/3; de Villiers 80 off 74; Duminy 3 off 6
Bringing Benn back (for the 28th over) was Sammy's last throw of the dice -- only, it rolled for the South Africans as de Villiers, by now fully set and in no mood to let the spinner dictate play, climbed into him with a flowing drive over short cover, followed by a mincing waltz down the track to launch the spinner high over the long off boundary and into the midst of the few spectators in that region. Clearly I am not the only one who is now bored -- AB was as well, and increasingly looks intent on finishing this off so he can head off into the Delhi night.
In the next over, Pollard from around the wicket scrambled the seam and produced a slower ball that had Smith heaving vigorously, and a lifetime too early -- the ball waited for the ball to get into its follow through before ambling through space and knocking back the stumps. Smith's 45 off 78 (43 dot balls) was labored and unconvincing -- but the fact remains that he gritted it out there long enough to add 119 with de Villiers and make the game all but safe, especially after watching two of his mates get back into the hut in a heck of a hurry.
JP Duminy looked a touch uneasy against Roach, getting into all kinds of trouble when the quick first banged one in and then followed up with a perfect yorker, but managed to survive that opening encounter.
Overall, SA has the ask down to 76, off 20 overs, at less than four an over. West Indies need a miracle. In fact, a few miracles.
Passing thought: AB has produced some superlative shots today, but nothing quite as astonishing as his stroke in the 29th over, when he went low a perfectly good Kemar Roach delivery around the off stump, opened his blade and played a square drive that screamed to the point boundary.
South Africa: Overs 21-25: 121/2; de Villiers 61 off 61; Smith 41 off 67
Inevitability is boring -- and "inevitable" describes what is happening out there. Roach and Benn are the only really top quality bowling options the West Indies have; once both had gotten through their first spells, South Africa's jitters went with them, and since then it has all been one way traffic at the Kotla. Bravo is off the field; Pollard's military medium is good for the odd IPL/T20 spell but not of much use when defending a small target across 50 overs; the same is true for Sammy... you get the idea.
You could say the Proteas aren't smashing everything out of the park, but then they don't have to. This is the kind of target you chase down at a gentle jog, bleeding the bowling with singles and waiting for the opportunity to play the odd forcing shot. And that is exactly how they played it -- de Villiers produced a flowing six off Gayle and a deliberate edge to the third man boundary off Pollard, but outside of those flourishes, he and Smith worked the ball around in businesslike fashion, bringing the target down with every single taken.
Sammy brought Roach back in the 24th to try and make things happen, but with the softer ball, the Windies quick didn't get the same pace and movement he had found early on, and was negotiated with relative ease by the batsmen.
The ask is down to 102 at the halfway stage; say what you will about the unproved quality of the SA middle order, the fact is there are eight wickets still standing... in short, one way traffic continues.
South Africa: Overs 16-20: 94/2; Smith 29 off 50; de Villiers 46 off 48
Just about the only sniff Windies had during this phase was when Chris Gayle hurried one into de Villiers, forcing the miscue on an attempted forcing shot. The ball hung in the heavens over long on for an eternity with Gayle's 'caaaaaaaaatch' as sound track, but Benn, back on the line, seemed a shade lethargic in coming in, and watched as it bounced a few feet in front of him. Not a full fledged missed chance, but a more athletic fielder would have grabbed what could have been a match-turning catch.
Other than that, it was business as usual. AB de Villiers was a visual treat -- impeccable balance off either foot, sure sense of timing, razor sharp awareness of the field, and an enviable fluidity about all that he did. At the other end, Smith remained ugly, but increasingly effective as he settled down to work the gaps.
The target is down to 129 at 4.3; for all that the commentators talk of close games, this one is going only one way -- and that right quick.
South Africa: Overs 11-15: 73/2; AB de Villiers 32 off 33; Graeme Smith 22 off 35
West Indies took the bowling power play -- what else were they going to do?
Benn had done his bit, producing a spell of one wicket for 19 off his first five overs. Sammy needed to reserve the spinner for later in the program; he brought himself on for some fairly straight and gentle seam stuff, and immediately Smith began breathing a lot easier; his feet began moving again and his batting assumed a sense of ease. Relative ease, but still way better than his struggles when confronted by Benn. (Smith versus Benn: 11 balls, 8 dot balls, three edgy singles).
At the other end, de Villiers continued like he was enjoying a casual net. With Bravo and Sammy not coming on as Roach had done, it wasn't that easy to find the boundaries, but the elegant right hander 's shots continued to flow off his bat, and at all times he appeared to have a razor-sharp sense of length and line, getting his feet into perfect position almost without fail.
Darren Bravo managed to do himself a bit of no-good when, in the 14th over, bowling round the wicket, he was well into his follow through when he braked on a dime and tried to go the other way to stop a fairly gentle push by Smith. The bowler's abrupt change of direction caused his foot to go out from under him; he fell to the deck and appeared to have done his knee a bit of no good, causing drinks to be taken ahead of schedule. Bravo went off the field, and Keiron Pollard took over to complete the unfinished over.
By the end of this phase, the two Proteas batsmen had settled down to casually knocking the ball around; with the kind of target confronting them, and with a middle order that is yet to really prove itself, that is all de Villiers and Smith had to do anyway. Already, this is South Africa's game to lose. Target remaining = 150 runs at 4.2; in other words, a doddle if you don't do something criminally stupid.
In passing, and keeping in mind Smith's difficulty to make the pace when the ball is not coming on to him -- why didn't Chris Gayle bowl an over or two when Benn's first spell was done?
South Africa: Overs 6-10: 49/2
You'd think, judging by what the stump mikes are picking up, that it is the silver tongued orators' convention out there -- the duo of keeper Thomas (Maybe the selectors picked him as replacement for Carlton Baugh only so they could put thousands of miles between themselves and his chatter? Okay, just kidding) and skipper Sammy have, from the start of this innings, maintained the kind of non-stop chatter calculated to annoy. It's mostly oohs and aahs and "Bowling, Benny!" -- but it's constant to the point where you wonder how these two can go on without taking breath. Good fun, except if you are a Sout African batsman facing what suddenly looks like a challenging score, with two of your best batsmen back in the hut with very little to show for their labors.
The first real sign that there were two sides in this contest came in the 8th over, when AB de Villiers shrugged off the chatter and the pressure to produce three strokes of outstanding quality. The first looked like a defensive push to a ball from Roach that was a touch on the short side; only, the bat met ball with such perfect timing, the ball flashed to the fence at cover, threading two fielders on the way. A ball later, Roach went fuller in length; the front foot of de Villiers glided forward in a way more suited to the dance floor, bat followed foot, and the ball screamed across the turf. The final shot in this sequence was if anything even better -- Roach hit the perfect length just outside off; de Villiers parked himself on his leg stump, bent at the knee and at the perfect instant, forced the ball past point to the square boundary. (An over later, he produced an immaculate extra cover drive to greet Dwayne Bravo with, when Sammy took Roach off after that pounding).
Smith, who looks horribly out of his depth at this point, almost compensated with calling and running of the daftest kind; Thomas was quick to scurry to his left and pick up and throw, but at the bowler's end, Benn made a mess of the collection with Smith well out of his ground.
At the end of a five-over spell punctuated with near mishaps and exquisite batsmanship, SA are 49/2; motoring along at close to 5 thanks largely to AB de Villiers. More to the point, the target is now just 174. Clearly, the Windies batsmen haven't given their bowlers sufficient margins to work with.
South Africa: Overs 1-5: 24/2
Early exchanges were along expected lines: Suleman Benn opened at one end, and with the hard new ball, still got considerable nip and turn, beating Amla's bat almost as a hobby. At the other end, Kemar Roach was quick -- and for South African batsmen weaned on "quick", proved easier to handle. It didn't help that Roach, in trying for pace and the fuller length, tended to occasionally slip towards the leg stump line.
Hashim Amla's transformation into a compleat one-day cricketer continues to impress. He epitomizes a characteristic you want to see in openers in this form of the game: his trigger movements are attacking in nature; he is sufficiently sure of his skills to adjust even when beaten, change his stroke extempore and still get runs (case in point, the batsman was beaten by Benn in the second over; he adjusted and cut very late to ease the ball through the field and to the fence).
That said, Amla was the first to go, and it was touch and go. Kemar Roach in his second over nearly did him with a short ball that came on slower than the batsman expected -- whether by accident or design, only the bowler knows. Amla pulled, playing the length, and came within a whisker of finding square leg.
Next ball, Roach swung very wide of the crease, changed the length up and produced an absolute peach of an in-cutter; Amla was beaten but in keeping with his aggressive intent, looked to force from the crease and ended up getting an inner edge. The ball was flying low on the leg side when Devon Thomas, initially going the other way, checked, reversed direction and momentum, and pulled off a blinder on the dive. The replay showed Roach's front foot landing bang on the line -- not a no ball, but not by much. (Amla 14 off 15)
Roach came within a whisker of getting another wicket when he greeted Kallis, first up, with a snorter of a yorker the batsman, known to have problems with the fuller length early in his innings, had trouble digging out of the block hole.
The reprieve was brief. The batsman seemed in expansive mood, swinging his bat in long, airy arcs. In the very next over, Benn used his height to float one right up to the batsman and dip sharply; Kallis went for the expansive drive without much of a clue where it was landing, and was beaten by the turn; the outer edge flew to slip where Sammy grabbed the catch with the thickness of a blade of grass between ball and ground. (Kallis 4 off 7)
Graeme Smith is at his best when the quicks are on and the ball is coming on, and he can use his strength to force the ball through and over the field. Here, on a track without carry, he was a bit out of his element, and it showed in the effort he put into his hitting, with little reward to show.
At the end of the first five overs, SA has just the start it did not want; it is now up to AB de Villiers and Smith to bring some sense, some sensibility, to the chase. And it won't help that whenever SA lose wickets early, the old fears about choking come rushing back.
In between innings:
Two items of interest: One, it is almost axiomatic that the smaller totals are the more challenging when chasing; it will be fun to see how the Proteas cope with it, and whether they approach it with the calm competence this kind of chase deserves, or get into trouble trying to do too much too soon.
Equally, the West Indies bowling lineup is clearly geared to go slow and slower (while on that, what a switch this WC contest has been: the Proteas going in with three spinners, no less; the Windies fielding a side with just one single genuine quick bowler). That plus tight fielding can create a bit of pressure, if they have their gameplans in place and have the discipline and mental fortitude to stick to their plans.
The key to this contest will be the opening 15 overs -- if Smith and Amla can get the Proteas off to a good start, then the chase will pretty much be over right there. Lose a couple of early wickets, though, and the fun will begin; pressure is the one Achilles heel this Proteas outfit has.
West Indies 46-50: 222 all out
Once wickets fell in the 38th, 43rd, 44th, 45th and 46th over (Steyn straightening one into Darren Sammy that was too good for the Windies skipper), it was all over anyway. Suleman Benn and Kemar Roach flailed away with plenty of heart and no science; Steyn and Morkel were too good, and had too much of bowling savvy, to bowl tailend-friendly stuff. Fittingly, both quicks combined to take out the final wicket, with Morkel running in off the line to take the catch off a Benn skier off Steyn.
A thoroughly professional performance from the Proteas: they struck early by going against their own playbook and opening with spin; the captain used his spinners to optimum effect, in brief wicket-taking bursts; they managed to weather a dangerous phase when Darren Bravo threatened to take the game away; and once they got rid of the dangerman, showed how good they are at ruthlessly tightening the noose once they've managed to grab hold of the rope.
Against that, the West Indies had a window of opportunity when Smith and Bravo took the total to 113 and were motoring along; everything that happened after that point indicated that the vulnerabilities -- mostly mental -- plaguing the side are all present and accounted for.
222, on this track, is a good 70, 80 runs less than what you need against an in-form South African batting lineup. Just about the only point of interest is to see how good the Proteas can be against a bowling lineup that will give absolutely no pace on the ball.
West Indies: 41-45: 213/8
There's a fallacy that batsmen can change gears at will. Some can -- but others, especially if they spend some time shackled by their own minds, find it difficult to change gears at will. Chanderpaul is one such; having played 29 of his 51 deliveries runless, and aware that time was running out on his team, the veteran left hander looked to open up and started the 43rd over with a lovely inside out lofted drive to the long off boundary. Next ball, he danced down the wicket looking to go aerial in the same direction, but only managed to hole out to the deep fielder (31/51 balls). This was an innings that did neither himself or his team much good -- his being becalmed for long spells put the brakes on his side; added to the pressure on Dwayne Bravo; and triggered a run out. Redemption would have come had he batted through the innings and allowed Thomas and Pollard to hit around him -- but his dismissal put paid to that.
Smith had been holding Steyn back; Pollard's entry was the signal for the premier quick to come back. Again, it proved to be an inspired decision -- the first ball Steyn bowled, and Pollard faced in his innings, was quick, just back of length, just jagging back enough to beat the attempt to play to leg and to nail the batsman on his pads, in front of the stumps. The on field umpire called it not out; South Africa called for the review, and the third umpire reversed the on-field decision. Pollard, after all, lasted just the one ball needed to get his wicket -- and as he walked back, West Indies' hopes of a competitive total walked with him.
So Pollard didn't work after all, which seems on the surface to validate the decision to send Thomas in ahead of him -- but I'd still stick to the thought that if you have a batsman capable of breaking a game open, you need to give him the space to do it.
During this phase, Tahir (with two official warnings for running on the pitch hanging over his head) bowled out his quota -- and he wrote himself the perfect script when, with the last ball of his spell, he floated one up just enough to tempt Thomas into a wild swipe that flared off the thick outer edge of his bat, high in the air for JP Duminy to race in from the outfield and dive to hold. (Thomas 15 off 26)
Tahir ended with 10-1-41-4, and has already done enough to indicate that he could be a valuable asset to a South African attack that is increasingly looking capable of holding its own in all conditions.
Oh and by the way -- with all its batsmen, recognized or not, gone, the West Indies opted to take its power play in the 46th over, and that is about as ridiculous as it gets. Sammy could at the very least have taken it when Bravo was out there with Chanderpaul -- Bravo was already in aggressive mode and could have optimized; Chanderpaul could have benefited from the freedom provided by the drawn in field. Ah well.
A problem with big hitting batsmen is the tendency of their captains to believe that they are only good to slog blindly for a dozen balls. The situation called out for Keiron Pollard to come out; in fact, with Chanderpaul batting as if it were the opening day of a Test, the situation cried out for Pollard to come in and break this open. The Windies think tank however opted to keep the big-hitting Pollard back -- and in the final analysis, that could be what costs the batting side big time. Not only are the batsmen in the middle using up deliveries to nudge the ball around, Pollard when and if he comes in will have no time to set himself up, and that can produce the fatal mistake neither he, nor his team, can afford.
West Indies: Overs 36-40: 190/5; Chanderpaul 25/43; Thomas 3/8
Harder ball; an innings getting into the business end; Dwayne Bravo at the crease with the fidgets having been shaken off -- it was all set up for an escalation. Bravo did his bit, with a waltz down the track at Petersen followed by a clean loft over long on in the 36th, then a top edge for four to third man as the batsman miscued an attempt to launch Morkel into orbit.
The aggression, however, was all from one end; at the other, Chanderpaul plodded along, finding the fielders more often than not, and managing only the occasional single to move the score along.
Typically, that kind of thing adds to the pressure, both on the batsman and his partner -- and so it proved, with Chanderpaul attempting innovation in the form of a reverse sweep at Petersen. The short fine leg fielder was well placed for the shot; Chanderpaul called and ran in an excess of panic and adrenalin, but Bravo at the other end was perfectly positioned to see where the ball was going -- and it was his call anyway. Seeing his partner charge headlong down the wicket, Bravo stepped out of his crease and made a charade of going for the non-existent run, sacrificing himself in a display of much heart and little brains (Bravo 40 off 37). If someone had to go, it had to be Chanderpaul given the way he was batting.
Another corollary of such mishaps is survivor's guilt -- the need felt by the batsman in error to try and make up. Chanderpaul gave evidence of some such symptoms with a mow, in the 40th over, over midwicket off Petersen, but otherwise he played through this phase with his characteristic -- if in the circumstances misplaced -- caution.
'Keeper Devon Thomas, all of 21, walked in ahead of Keiron Pollard and, thus far, has seemed tentative and more than a touch nervous. For the Proteas, Smith continued to rotate his bowlers rapidly, moving Morkel out and bringing Tahir back on for another burst.
We are into the slog phase, and there is still no sign of the batting power play. 33 runs came during this phase of five overs, thanks to Bravo's aggression in the early stage and Chanderpaul's mow at the end.
West Indies: Overs 31-35: 157/4. Bravo 24/28; Chanderpaul 12/30
If this was TV commentary, we would have had Ravi Shastri "getting a feeling" that something had to give. Something did -- in the 31st over, Dwayne Bravo greeted Imran Tahir with a brutal pull over midwicket for six. The ball from Tahir deserved the treatment -- just when I was talking of his control, the youngster dropped one halfway down the track and watched it sit up and beg.
Smith promptly took Tahir off and replaced him with Botha, sticking to his ploy of rotating his spinners in very short spells; it made little difference as Bravo danced down the track, took a flighted ball and lofted it high and wide over midwicket for another six, again making optimum use of the short boundary.
Those two big shots apart, runs came in trickles and, in the 35th over, Morkel took the ball from Botha after the latter had bowled just one over; most likely, the change was prompted by the fact that the ball in use is due to be replaced by a harder one at the end of the 35th.
Overall, the game is in a state of stasis as far as the Windies are concerned; they haven't been able yet to shrug off the loss of those three quick wickets, and the longer this goes on, the happier South Africa will feel. This period produced 28 runs; overall, the Windies run rate of 4.48 is a bit underwhelming for this phase of the innings. While on that, Chanderpaul's 12 off 30 deliveries is exactly what the batting side does not need at this point.
West Indies: Overs 26-30: 129/4
The overs 23-27 saw the game spinning around on a dime, with the West Indies losing three quick wickets and shifting the balance right back to the fielding side.
More to the immediate point, Imran Tahir showed that there were no scars from his rough handling at the hands of Darren Bravo in his first spell; after taking Smith out in his comeback over (the 24th), he struck again in his next when he tossed one right up at Sarwan, landed it on leg and turned it in just enough to hit middle and off. Sarwan poked at it tentatively; the ball appeared to impact bat and pad simultaneously; Simon Taufel called it out and the third umpire upheld the decision, causing the Windies to not just lose a wicket, but also to forfeit its only remaining referral.
That said, I am not sure the third umpire got this one right. Despite numerous replays, it was not clear whether the ball hit bat first, or the pad -- and when things are that close, benefit of the doubt invariably goes to the batsman. Sarwan has the right to feel a touch aggrieved -- but then, he looked extremely tentative during his short stint, and misread the ball in question horribly, playing half cock down the wrong line.
The batting side would have plunged deeper in the goo later in the same over, when Tahir suckered Dwanye Bravo into an ambitious drive at a well flighted delivery. The loop on that one was prodigious; it dropped quicker than Bravo anticipated, defeated the shot, and Tahir managed to get his hand to the uppish chip on his follow through, but despite a desperate tumble, couldn't hang on.
Already, Tahir is beginning to impress as a bowler with immaculate control over the tools of his craft: his flight and loop are just about perfect; he only turns the ball enough to disturb the shot, and his length is close to ideal for a spinner on this type of track -- just an inch or so short of the good length; just enough to create dilemmas for the batsmen about whether to go forward or back.
A mere 11 runs came in these five overs, for the loss of Sarwan -- a period of play that brought the Proteas into the box seat, and gave the Windies a crippling body blow that threatens to undo all the good work of earlier.
Ironically, the only weak link in the Proteas attack thus far has been Steyn, who bowled two largely undistinguished overs in this period before yielding the bowling crease to Petersen, brought on for a second go-round.
West Indies: Overs 21-25: 118/3; Sarwan 2/7; Chanderpaul 1/1
The chatter, noticeably, had ebbed -- and whether that was a function of the close fielders spreading out or of the Proteas beginning to feel a touch of worry was anyone's guess.
Just when it seemed as if the Smith-Bravo combine was taking the game away from the fielding side, though, Botha struck for the second time in the innings. There was nothing outstanding about the delivery itself -- it was angled from a touch wide of the crease, it landed in line of middle and leg and straightened to hit Bravo on the pads as the batsman tried to play around his front pad and work the single on the on side. The umpire called it out; Bravo rather hesitantly asked for the referral, only for the third umpire to confirm the decision. (Darren Bravo 73 off 82; partnership 111 at 4.9 RPO).
It was an almost perfect innings, mixing aggression with controlled accumulation to a nicety. The Lara comparisons are apt to dominate the discourse in the media tomorrow; on the evidence of this innings, the lad has the signature style of his cousin down pat, but is less prone to decimate an attack in the mercurial Lara fashion, seemingly preferring to play within himself.
The recalled Ramnaresh Sarwan replaced Bravo; at the bowling end, Smith continued his rotation policy taking Petersen off (4-0-17-0) and bringing Tahir back. And again, Smith's instincts worked for him -- Tahir went even closer to the stumps than he is wont to, gave the ball one heck of a rip and turned it sharply back into the left-hander; Devon Smith's attempt to hit through the line misfired and he ended up spooning a tame catch back to the bowler (Devon Smith 36/57). On balance, Smith in his innings managed to ensure that the Proteas did not break through at both ends, but 32 dot balls that studded his 57-ball knock put the brakes somewhat on the team's run rate, and transferred the pressure of keeping the board ticking to Bravo).
Two new batsmen at the crease in Sarwan and Chanderpaul -- and no time for them to really settle down. The key for the West Indies here is to keep the pace of scoring up, to go at 4-5 runs an over for the next 10 overs at least so the big hitters lower down can do their thing off a stable platform.
Smith's handling of his bowling resources has been far more imaginative than you expect from South African captains. His bringing Tahir on was calculated and shrewd (and it paid off); once he had both well set batsmen back in the hut, Smith quickly removed Botha and brought back Steyn to try and see if he could break through again.
West Indies: Overs 16-20: 102/1; Smith 29/47; Bravo 67/70
I'm not sure whether it is a function of pre-planned strategy or of Smith's reading of the Kotla track (which thus far has behaved itself), but as early as the 18th over, the introduction of Robert Petersen in place of Morkel (the pick of the Proteas bowlers so far, with 5-0-21-0 in his first spell), and the switching on of Botha as replacement for Tahir, officially took the pace off the ball with spin operating from both ends. There is some turn, and some bounce, on offer -- and that should make things interesting in the second half of the game, when the West Indies take the field with an array of slow bowlers.
Earlier, Tahir came in for his second over with the luxury of a spread field -- and immediately got a taste of the big time when Bravo twice worked him for braces in course of which he got his 50, then played a scarcely credible one-handed loft over the deep-set mid on fielder, carrying the ground comfortably for an astonishing six.
The occasional big hit apart, the Windies batsmen opted to work the ball around against the spread field, and took on the razor-sharp fielding with a display of good calling and running. The two batsmen are clearly comfortable with each other in the middle; their understanding was on show during this phase. Against that, the spread field meant boundaries became hard to come by despite the relative smallness of the Kotla boundaries.
This phase produced 30 runs, with the batsmen continuing their good work and, in the process, bringing up the 100 of the partnership off a decent 117 deliveries.
West Indies: Overs 11-15: 72/1; Bravo 49/54; Smith 18/33
Graeme Smith opted to call for the bowling PP immediately after the mandatory lot of 10 -- a good call on the face of it, as the Windies batsmen hadn't exactly broken free.
Unlike Steyn, Morkel focused on the tight line around off, and a length just short of good. Coupled with his pace, and an ability to use the width of the crease to create tight angles, that meant that there was little or nothing for the batsmen to work with. Even Bravo found it difficult to step up the pace against the Proteas quick, and was reduced to manufacturing shots -- like a forehand smash he played, in predetermined fashion, to slog Morkel from just back of length over mid on in the 13th over. That set up the Morkel-Bravo confrontation in the 15th: a superb straight drive started it; Morkel retaliated by producing a couple of blistering deliveries that beat the batsman's edge; a scrambled single and the usual SA fielding prowess produced a tight run... in sum, an over of sustained drama.
At the other end, Kallis remained a bit of a curate's egg -- some good deliveries, and then the sliver of opportunity that Bravo, in particular, put away with ruthless precision. Smith opted to rest his expensive veteran (Kallis 3-0-21-0) and to introduce, inside the power play, with the Pakistan-born leg spinner Imran Tahir.
Tahir bowls off a very short, diagonal run up that puts him right in front of the stumps in his delivery stride; he has a pronounced pivot and a tendency to really rip the ball out of his spinning fingers. The last five deliveries of his first over were to Bravo -- and the batsman played him with considerable, merited, respect. First impression: the lad has bottle; bowling with the field up against a batsman already shown to be willing and eager to play shots, Tahir showed commendable composure.
Overall, the bowling power play produced just 28 runs, vindicating Smith's desire to take it early. The Windies innings is currently going along at 4.8 -- and the batting side should be quite happy with that; the trick will be to go on for at least another ten overs, setting a platform for the big hitting stars to follow.
West Indies: Overs 6-10: 44/1; Darren Bravo 30/34; Devon Smith 10/23
Botha did what he was supposed to -- three overs for 11 runs and the vital wicket of Gayle. Morne Morkel came on as his replacement; at the other end, Kallis came in for a somewhat wayward Steyn (3-1-17-0).
The cynosure was Bravo who, with each passing shot (a brilliant lofted drive over cover off Steyn, an effortless loft over mid on off Kallis, and a stunning cover drive, also off Kallis), played with the sort of extravagant flourish and in your face arrogance that was the signature of his cousin Lara. For once, the hype seems justified -- this boy is a serious talent, and if he can translate early promise into sustained achievement, the Windies have found its batting fulcrum.
It is the magic moments that make such contests memorable, and a little bit of magic came in the last ball of the 9th over when Morkel, with no visible change of action, got one, landing just short of length, to climb like it had an express escalator. Bravo was totally surprised; he countered Morkel's display of skill with a lovely sway, bending backward at the hip to let the ball fly past his nose without ever taking his eyes off the ball.
Overall, this phase saw the Windies come back into the game; at the end of the mandatory ten over PP it is level pegging as both sides jockey for the game-changing advantage. In his first over, Kallis looked like he could be the weak link, but the veteran came right back with a challenging second over. For the West Indies, the weak link looks to be Devon Smith, who is yet to find his touch and timing out there; the Proteas have been targeting him, and this could add incremental pressure to his more fluent partner.
West Indies: Overs 1-5: 22/1; Darren Bravo 12/19; Devon Smith 7/8
"Predictable", I had said of SA in the team preview (scroll down). So Graeme Smith sets out to prove me wrong, opening the bowling not with the fiery Dale Steyn, but with Johan Botha. And in a case of fortune favoring the brave, Botha struck with the third ball of the first over, with the spinner claiming no less than Gayle. Flighted delivery, on off, turning away from the left hander and Gayle pushed at it with hard hands, got the regulation edge, and Smith did the rest.
Botha could have made it an incredible two-for in the first over, with a strong shout for LBW against Darren Bravo. Simon Taufel called it not out, the referral indicated that while the ball was hitting middle of middle, the batsman had been struck marginally outside line of off (My pet peeve -- what has that got to do with it? And how ridiculous is it to expect a spinner to land in line of off and hit in line of middle? Basically, what this rule seems to be saying is that there is no room for spin, turn and other such refinements in modern day cricket).
Steyn, bowling the second over, straightaway produced pace and considerable swing -- but those factors also led to the first boundary of the innings with Darren Bravo, likened for his skill, his backlift and general demeanor at the wicket, to the iconic Brian Lara, helping it off his pads to the fine leg boundary, with an encore a ball later, to get the innings properly underway.
Devon Smith and Darren Bravo seemed relatively unaffected by the early loss of Gayle -- with nudges, scampered singles and the occasional whip off the pads, they got off to momentum of sorts against the Botha-Steyn mixed attack backed by the usual high quality ground fielding and plenty of chatter from Smith and other close in fielders.
The focus for me in the next five overs is definitely Bravo -- the more you see of him, the more he reminds you of a young Lara. Now to see if he can play like his famed cousin -- or at least an approximation thereof.
Who is a "dedicated fan"?
There are days when you feel like asking why we even bother following this World Cup. Consider the ICC's latest:
It has also recommended that the 4,000 general tickets for the World Cup final not be sold at the "box office" but instead "sold to defined cricket fans that are associated with the event and have requested purchase". This, it said, was because the high demand for these tickets created the "potential for chaos and physical injury when the box office sales open".
Typical double-speak aimed at spinning the truth, that. When you "recommend" that tickets not be sold at the box office, what you are in fact saying is, we don't want the fans -- that is you and me -- who stand in queues, and put down their hard-earned money to spend a day at the cricket drinking overpriced glasses of water and queueing up to use smelly loos.
What the ICC wants is more tickets for the sponsors, even if it means that, incredibly, no tickets will be sold in the open to John Q Public. That is what the ICC actually means when it says, "defined cricket fans that are associated with the event". So, as we asked in an earlier post, who the hell is this World Cup for anyway?
Never mind -- this blog is for the "undefined" cricket fan. That means you. And today, just as we did in the first game between India and Bangladesh, we will bring you analytical updates of the progress of the game at five over intervals.
But first, the teams:
The West Indies: Misguided missiles
Since the halcyon days of the 1970s and early 1980s, the West Indies has steadily slipped down the World Cup ladder, with a sole semifinal finish in 1996 to boast of in the intervening years.
The team comes into the Cup on the back of a rain-ruined tour of Sri Lanka which they lost 2-0, on the back of performances that were almost as depressing as the weather. Look at the personnel, though, and you are hard-pressed to explain such performances.
For starters, there is Kemar Roach -- a bowler, finally, in the mould of the great Windies pacemen of the glory days. Windies has historically done well when it has a bowler or two to play enforcer -- and in Roach, they have found a bowler with the nous to do just that. That said, the spearhead suffers under a handicap -- while the 'head' is nice and sharp, there is no haft; no back up bowlers of equal quality to maintain pressure at the other end.
A major change -- a good one -- is in the captaincy. Chris Gayle has, time and again, demonstrated that he is least interested in the hassle of leading a team; against that, incumbent Darren Sammy is not only willing, but hyper-vocal, about how much he values the job, and how passionate he is about doing it. So at the least, the Windies will not this time round have to complain (as it legitimately could in the last edition of the Cup, when a certain Brian Lara was at the helm) about a leader who marched to the tune of a different drummer from the rest.
Personnel-wise, Windies seemingly has everything it takes. The languid grace and devastating destructiveness of Chris Gayle; the rock solid dependability of Shivnaraine Chanderpaul, the explosive power of Keiron Pollard, back in the reckoning after sitting out the warm up games with a niggle; the all round game-changing abilities of Dwayne Bravo, the breath-of-fresh-oxygen approach of Darren Bravo...
You could spend all day analyzing the team composition, strategies, tactics -- but at the end of it all, you get the sense that with the Windies, performance on the day could depend not so much on cricketing issues but on which side of the bed the team got off that morning. There's just one thing you can say for sure -- there will be no in-betweens when the one time champions take the field; you will either get a devastating performance, or a disgraceful one.
South Africa: The space between its ears
Cricinfo recently carried a statistical piece on the South African top order, designed to underline just how far the Proteas top five is ahead of the competition. Then there is Dale Steyn, leading an attack that is second to none in aggressiveness allied to discipline. And on top of that, there is a fielding unit that alone is worth going miles, and forking out your life's savings, to watch.
It didn't need stats, really, to underline the fact that man for man, skill-set for skill-set, South Africa is the most talented team in this competition -- but then, the same could have been said for the Proteas in past editions of the Cup as well. You could argue endlessly about whether this top five is better than the predecessors; whether Steyn at his peak is more formidable than Allan Donald; whether the timely entry of Pakistan-born leg-spinner Imran Tahir gives the Proteas that extra fillip in a competition where, even in these relatively early days, spinners have already established themselves as the game's enforcers.
So what is it about the Proteas, really, that makes people reluctant to bet on their going beyond the quarter final stage? I suspect the clue lies in a phrase that is used often to characterize the squad: they are a "well-oiled machine".
Indeed. And like all good machinery, they operate perfectly within pre-determined parameters. The problem is that in a team sport, and in crunch situations, a team needs to be greater than the sum of its parts; it needs that little extra; the X factor, if you will.
It is an indefinable. Maybe it is in the heart; maybe in the mind; maybe in the will -- but it is a fact that this, finally, is what separates men from boys; brides from the eternal bridesmaids the Proteas are in danger of becoming.
The man tasked with unearthing this X factor and hard-coding it into the team's DNA is psychologist Dr Henning Gericke -- and his opinion of his wards was expressed in clear terms earlier this year, when the Indian team gave the hosts a run the Proteas hadn't bargained for. South Africa, Gericke said, is spot on when it comes to winning all the unimportant games; "what they need to learn is how to start winning key games."
Gericke identified a tendency to be conservative as South Africa's biggest problem -- and he hit the nail on the spot marked X. Remember the days of Hansie Cronje? Before the team walked out into the field, you could name the two bowlers who would bowl the first ten overs; you knew the two bowlers who would then come on and bowl overs 11-20; you knew when the combined fifth bowler option would be deployed... In other words, South Africa on the field tended then, tends now, to paint by the numbers. And that has been their single biggest weakness -- this inability to go outside the template or, if you will, the insistence on playing like the "well oiled machine" they are constantly compared to.
So the one question, as the curtain goes up on a key Cup game after a few days of pointless encounters, is this: Can South Africa break free of its self-imposed shackles? Precise, it already is; perfection, it is fast approaching -- but does it have the cojones to be idiosyncratic, to be brilliant?
Hopefully, today will bring answers. We will be back, at 2.20, with the toss and the teams; from then on, this blog will be updated every five overs. See you at the game.
It's the Firozeshah Kotla -- emblem of all that is wrong with the DDCA. It's previous tryst with international cricket -- India-Sri Lanka in December 2009 -- ended in a fiasco, and a ban. Since then, the ground staff assisted by every variety of expert the DDCA and BCCI could find, have been working on bringing the ground back to its true character of being a flat, even batting track, and early word from the Kotla is that they have likely succeeded. Some help for seam early on, but otherwise a batting paradise, is the opinion from my colleague Bikash Singh, now at the Kotla.
We'll see. I am no fan of 'pitch reports', whether made through just eyeballing the track or poking car keys into it. What concerns me is the fact that not much cricket has been played on this track in the last few months -- and absent match play, anything we say about the wicket is pure speculation.
South Africa wins the toss and opts to bowl first. The right choice? Maybe -- if Steyn and company can make early inroads. And on that, it is somewhat curious that SA decided to rest Tsotsobe, who showed during the recent series in India that he is not merely a make-up-the-numbers support bowler for the top two pacers, but a wicket-taking option in his own right.
More broadly, given that the West Indies strength is batting, it does prima facie seem counter-intuitive to give them the option of batting first, playing to its strengths -- if Gayle gets off to a flier and the likes of Pollard fire resulting in a humongous total, the Proteas will be under pressure on the chase under lights.
Right -- over to the five-over updates. BTW, comments too politically incorrect for this blog will be made on my Twitter stream. :-) Elsewhere, my colleague Bikash Singh, and other members of the Yahoo Edit team, will chat with you live on the game as it unfolds, here.