West Indies power into the semis
West Indies 249 for 5 (Sarwan 75, Chanderpaul 51*, Lara 49) beat South Africa 246 for 6 (Gibbs 101, Gayle 3-50) by five wickets
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
The West Indies batsmen overcame a sluggish pitch and some strangulating bowling to sneak a thrilling five-wicket win over South Africa at The Oval, and enter the semi-finals of the Champions Trophy. Brian Lara and Ramnaresh Sarwan helped them stabilise the wobble and get within striking range. But it was Shivnarine Chanderpaul's tremendous 51, off just 52 balls, that pulled the carpet from beneath the South Africans' feet.
On a pitch with spongy bounce, Herschelle Gibbs's hundred yesterday had taken South Africa to a competitive total, and Shaun Pollock grabbed two quick wickets this morning to put West Indies in some trouble. Lara and Sarwan shared a period of consolidation, but it was Chanderpaul who injected the much-needed vim. And just as South Africa threatened to pull off a heist right at the end, Ricardo Powell carted two mighty sixes, and West Indies scraped through with seven balls to spare.
Lara nearly ran himself out first ball after Chris Gayle and Wavell Hinds had fallen to Pollock. Gayle came out like a sleep-walking bull and under-edged onto his stumps, while Hinds was unlucky to be given out lbw when the ball appeared to have pitched marginally outside leg (33 for 2). But after he survived that run-out chance, Lara dazzled in the next hour and a half, as he kept flicking the bowlers in the arc between midwicket and fine leg.
Throughout that period Sarwan was almost invisible at the other end, and had cobbled together just 12 runs from 42 balls. Lance Klusener and Jacques Kallis kept it very tight, and both batsmen found their offcutters and slower balls tough to get away. Lara was finally frustrated out as he charged down the track to Nicky Boje in the 33rd over, played all over the ball and was bowled (131 for 3).
Sarwan, who had made 34 off 66 at that stage, had just switched modes a few balls earlier. Both he and Chanderpaul put the fielders under pressure, and their calculated risks paid off. Sarwan's last 41 runs came in 33 balls and contained some clean sixes straight over the bowler's head. Sarwan fell trying to turn one to the on side, inside-edging Makhaya Ntini onto the stumps when West Indies still needed just 33 more (214 for 4).
Just like West Indies, South Africa had also struggled in the middle overs yesterday after Gibbs and Graeme Smith gave them a solid start. Gibbs showed glimpses of his usual intimidating self with some crashing drives and pulls. He brought up his fifty, from 59 balls, with a classical straight-drive through long-off, and the horrors of the last few weeks were all but forgotten. He also maintained his perfect conversion-rate against West Indies. On the four occasions that Gibbs has passed fifty against them, he has gone on to score a century.
But a period of inertia followed after Smith's wicket, at 102 for 1. Jacques Kallis's strike rate was less than a run every two balls, and Gibbs kept hitting straight to the men in the infield. Gibbs, whose first fifty had come in quick time, took 76 balls for his second and West Indies clawed back into the contest. Ryan Hinds, with his wobbly left-arm spin, conceded just 35 in his ten overs and South Africa needed a special finish.
The last ten overs produced 75, thanks mainly to Rudolph's 46 off 39 balls, as South Africa managed to reach a competitive total of 246. That nearly proved enough, because even when Sarwan had fallen, West Indies needed 29 off 22 balls. But Powell blasted those sixes off Pollock, both full-tosses that landed way over midwicket, and Chanderpaul sealed it with two more fours.
West Indies will take on Pakistan in their semi-final at the Rose Bowl on Wednesday. Will this be their golden swallow after a woeful summer?
Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is on the staff of Wisden Cricinfo.