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December 15, 2007
Boosted by the absence of Graeme Smith, West Indies will approach the first Twenty20 international against South Africa in Port Elizabeth with confidence.
Chris Gayle, the West Indies captain, has made optimistic noises since landing in the country and, despite falling behind the Duckworth-Lewis target in the warm-up match against Makhaya Ntini XI, West Indies can be expected to put up a stiff fight.
With three straight wins against Zimbabwe, after suffering a loss in the opening ODI, West Indies have some momentum on their side. Gayle will also take confidence from the opening match of the inaugural Twenty20 World Cup, where he lashed a 57-ball 117. It didn't prevent a defeat but definitely provided a big early scare.
"We respect the South Africans," Gayle said, "but we don't fear them. They are a good team and are playing good cricket at the moment, so we know the challenge at hand. But we are confident and we believe in our ability. We played well in Zimbabwe and we are here in South Africa to continue the good work. They will be in for a fight."
Chasing 177 in the practice match on Friday, West Indies started off shakily, losing their top three batsmen for 34, but were to be steadied by Shivnarine Chanderpaul. His rollicking 44 set the platform but the onset of rain, at 101 for 5, did West Indies in, falling short of the D/L target by five runs.
South Africa, though, will be hard to beat. Smith, who has been advised three week's rest after contracting an infection during the tour of Pakistan, will be replaced by Shaun Pollock as captain. Morne van Wyk will fill Smith's absence at the top of the order. They are currently the second-best ODI side, according to the ICC rankings, and are usually buoyed by their local support.
The first Twenty20 match will be followed by the three Test matches (Port Elizabeth from 26 December, Cape Town from 2 January and Durban from 10 January). The second Twenty20 is scheduled for January 18 at the Wanderers in Johannesburg.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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