South Africa need to make statement
Friday, February 27
Start time 1430 local (0330 GMT)
West Indies played the role of punching bags for AB de Villiers and his team during their recent bilateral series in South Africa, but this World Cup has already shown that context makes an enormous difference to games between otherwise unchanged opponents. South African expectations have been dampened by a poor defeat to India at a packed MCG, while West Indies' propensity for internal chaos was placed to one side by a restorative romp over Zimbabwe.
These two sides have been kilometres apart in terms of accomplishment in recent times, with South Africa seldom troubled. With Ireland and India showing themselves to be in decent fettle one of the two teams will emerge from the SCG with feelings of enhanced confidence and poise. The other will likely be left extremely worried about their place in the scheme of the tournament, for even if they are not eliminated they would be likely to be pitched into a quarter-final against Australia or New Zealand.
Logic, talent and recent history suggests that South Africa should have the measure of West Indies by a distance. But the pressures of the event and the vagaries of the SCG - a surface likely at this point of the season to more closely resemble a West Indian pitch than a South African one - may yet throw up some surprises.
The thought of defeat will haunt both teams, for by the third match of the pool phase it is time to demonstrate whether they are contenders or pretenders. There will also be expectation from around the world that, after a pair of thrilling encounters between Associate nations, the top tier need to step up and produce a contest worth the name.
West Indies: WWLLW(last five matches, most recent first)
South Africa: LWWLW
In the spotlight
Following his storming display against Zimbabwe, plenty are waiting to see how Chris Gayle fares against South Africa's more vaunted bowling attack. Gayle may not even be a certainty in the game, after his old back trouble emerged in the wake of the Manuka performance. It would be typical of the stop-start narrative of his recent career if Gayle were to be unavailable, but if West Indies are to reverse a poor recent record against South Africa they will surely need him.
Over-rates are far from the only worry for AB de Villiers entering the SCG match. His team flunked out badly against India, the size of the occasion appearing to overwhelm them. So much expectation sits on de Villiers' shoulders, but he can at least be consoled by the thought of his extraordinary 149 against these same opponents in Johannesburg.
Chris Gayle is under a cloud due to back trouble, while Sulieman Benn may return to the XI after missing out on the Zimbabwe match due to injury.
West Indies (possible) 1 Dwayne Smith, 2 Chris Gayle, 3 Jonathan Carter, 4 Marlon Samuels, 5 Denesh Ramdin (wk), 6 Lendl Simmons, 7 Darren Sammy, 8 Andre Russell, 9 Jason Holder (capt), 10 Jerome Taylor, 11 Sulieman Benn.
Farhaan Behardian and Kyle Abbott are two likely inclusions for Wayne Parnell and the injured Vernon Philander. There is also some speculation over the fitness of JP Duminy.
South Africa (possible): 1 Hashim Amla, 2 Quinton de Kock (wk), 3 Faf du Plessis, 4 AB de Villiers (capt), 5 David Miller, 6 JP Duminy, 7 Farhaan Behardien, 8 Kyle Abbott, 9 Dale Steyn, 10 Morne Morkel, 11 Imran Tahir.
Pitch and conditions
The SCG's pitch square is tiring towards the end of a long summer, and there may not be too much pace or bounce in the surface. But Sydney's atmosphere can offer swing, and there should be a modicum of spin also as the match goes on.
Stats and trivia
- South Africa's previous World Cup match at the SCG was the infamous 1992 semi-final against England, when a simplistic rain calculation left the Proteas needing 22 runs off one ball.
- West Indies have won only one of 17 encounters with South Africa since 2007, but their World Cup record is tighter - 3-2 South Africa's way
- Sydney's first match of the tournament
"I've spoken about building a relationship with the players, and I think I'm getting there slowly but surely. It won't happen overnight, but I think the longer I'm here, the more I'll build relationships."
West Indies captain Jason Holder
"There's nothing you can do except get it right and keep the intensity for 50 overs. It's not as easy as it sounds. We've got Imran who can get through overs quickly and hopefully the part-timers can help him but the seamers take time. I can't give the captain's armband away, we've asked the umpires about it, but I am nominated captain for the tournament."
AB de Villiers on over rates
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig