ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 / Features
South Africa v West Indies, Group B, World Cup 2011, Delhi
South Africa break away from tradition
A South African bowling attack that included three spinners, one of whom opened the bowling? What was going on at the Kotla?
Firdose Moonda at the Feroz Shah Kotla
February 24, 2011
From the moment the South African national anthem stopped halfway, and the players and some South African fans stood firm in singing it to its conclusion, there was a sense that there was something different about this match. A few minutes later, it presented itself in the form of Johan Botha, standing at the top of his run up, ready to open the bowling.
Who were these people and what had they done with the South African cricket team? For a second, Dale Steyn had been approaching to do what he usually does, but he soon realised this was no ordinary day.
A pitch that looked relatively placid provided Botha with sharp turn for the third ball he bowled. While Chris Gayle was walking back, Graeme Smith's Zimbabwean strategy of opening the bowling with spin was justified. "I'd been thinking about it through the week. They've got two left-handers upfront and I asked Johan to practice a bit in the nets," Smith said after South Africa's victory. "Sometimes when you come up with things and it works out it's a great thing, and today was one of those days."
Smith, who was battling a case of the sniffles, can be forgiven for forgetting the next 20 overs didn't work out for any of the South Africans bowlers. Steyn's first over was worth 11 runs, Jacques Kallis bowled two overs that went for 10 and nine, and Imran Tahir's second over was 11 as well. Darren Bravo threatened to honour the tradition of a West Indian batsman scoring a century against South Africa to cause an upset and they were settling down as comfortably as content cats on a cuddle cushion in the sun.
Then came the drinks break. West Indies used it to relax and South Africa to strategise. They came back in a miserly mood. The next six overs had 27 runs scored off them and then Bravo was out lbw to Botha. Smith had been using Robin Peterson from the other end but when one wicket fell, he sensed that it was time to unleash the mystery man. It was a decision laced with risk, a decision that the South Africa of before may not even have considered. This South Africa was willing to chance it.
Tahir came back with the confidence of a man who had spent years bowling at this level and took two wickets in two overs, which could have easily been three had he held on to the second return chance that went his way. Tahir showed why his debut was more anticipated than start of the tournament itself by most South Africans, disguising the googly craftily and showing no fear in tossing it up, getting hit a bit and then reaping the rewards.
"We tried to use him in short spells and he responded superbly. Every time he came on he made an impact. The guys bowled really well around him and helped to create pressure," Smith said. Tahir bowled an initial spell of two overs and two more spells of four overs each, the wicket-taking spells. He had Peterson and Botha keeping him company at the other end, with Peterson a silent, yet vital, partner along the way.
Peterson had taken the most wickets of any of the South African bowlers in the warm up games and was emerging as an unlikely striker, the Nemanja Vidic of the team. Smith singled him out for praise saying that he "bowled really well" even though he was wicketless and helped control the mid section of the game with Botha.
The presence of three spinners even rubbed off on Steyn, who ran through the West Indies tail with the clinical approach of a surgeon. With the wicket-taking responsibility evenly spread, Steyn could save himself for when he was needed and, as a result, "bowled quicker" at times. He was able to play a slightly different, but equally effective role.
Traditionalists would not have recognised this South African attack and, although they may be pleased with its results, they'll be happy to hear that normal service has not disappeared from Smith's mind completely. He said that the slew of spinners was not a strategy, but a result of circumstance. "It worked for us today and we will reassess going into the next game." He also didn't rule out the possibility of Lonwabo Tsotsobe, who had success against India and Pakistan, returning, saying that he will "play a very big part in this World Cup."
South Africa have eight days to think about what to do in their next match, against Netherlands in Mohali. Until then, they can bask in the knowledge that their captain is living up to his promise of being dynamic and affording them the luxury of variation, and that he is enjoying the unpredictability. "Everything that I envisaged going into this game seemed to work out," Smith said. "I just trusted my gut feel."
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