'Adapting to conditions is the key' - Smith
The last two times South Africa have come up against West Indies in big tournaments - the World Cup and the Champions Trophy - they have been at the losing end. It could be just coincidence, but Graeme Smith, the South African captain, is certainly aware of the history. "We know that they beat us in the World Cup and the last Champions Trophy," he said at a pre-match press conference. "They've got some top-class players and if they play like that, they can beat any team in the world, like they've shown in the game against Australia in the earlier part of the tournament. You've got to give them all the credit."
But the same West Indian team folded for only 80 on another day, and consistency isn't a word you're likely to use in their context. This unpredictable nature could go against them in a big semi-final. "It's the semi-final, so you've got to be sure you're up for the game. West Indies have match-winners and in one-dayers one match-winner can win you a game," said Smith. "It's like what we did against Pakistan, we just made sure that our own game is right, that's our game plan. It's been one of our strengths so far in this tournament. Tomorrow is going to be no different."
Another thing that has been inconsistent in this tournament is the pitches. From city to city, from strip to strip, each 22-yard patch has played differently. What did Smith make of this one? "It does look pretty dry at the moment but just looking at it and speaking to some guys in the teams that have played here in the earlier games, it has been a bit two-paced, a little bit up and down," he said. "I guess the harder ball will be difficult to bat against. Otherwise, the teams will have to adapt to the conditions. This wicket has been different from the ones we have played on. That's the tough part of the tournament, every wicket has been different and adapting to the conditions has been the key."
In recent times West Indies-South Africa matches have been fraught with confrontations with several players getting into verbal altercations on either side. Smith acknowledged as much when he said, "I'm sure it's going to be competitive. The teams have had a mixed relationship on and off the field. Certain guys get on well with each other but otherwise we don't know each other that well, West Indies are quite a young side in a lot of ways."
Smith also admitted that the lack of runs from the top order was a concern for his team. "I think most top-orders struggled so far in this tournament and I think the new ball has been a difficult phase to bat," he said. "If we can get off to a good start, it will be a huge bonus for us. Again, speaking for myself, I feel very good and it's just a matter of getting some time in the middle. You've got to take a start and take it from there. We've got guys up front there and ones we back to perform well."
At the same time, Smith could fall back to his bowlers to do the job, if the pitch gets a bit irregular. "It might swing in the first few overs but it won't have the sideways movement as Mohali had. It will be up and down since there are a lot of cracks in the wicket, as the ball gets softer, it will get more and more even," he said. "We have discussed most of the options and the things we expect but we are are going in to try and play our normal game. The key for us is to adapt to the conditions better than the other team, as has been the case in the last two matches."
Anand Vasu is assistant editor of Cricinfo