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The Bulletin by Anand Vasu
April 10, 2007
South Africa buried West Indies and with it the ghosts of their shock defeat to Bangladesh. A batting performance, at once clinical and brutal, helped them amass a huge 356 and left the West Indian bowlers battered, the captain bewildered, and their fans devastated; the hosts had been all but unceremoniously evicted from their own party, as South Africa sealed a 67-run win.
The game might be remembered most for the flurry of sixes in the final quarter of the South African innings, but it was made possible by a maiden century from AB de Villiers, grinning impishly as he almost apologetically took apart the West Indian bowlers on one good leg, and an uncharacteristically purposeful and authoritative innings from Jacques Kallis. These two built the platform whereon Mark Boucher and Herschelle Gibbs took off with relish.
The game will also be remembered for some surprising choices from Brian Lara. Jerome Taylor continued to miss out, Marlon Samuels warmed the bench and Kieron Pollard made his ODI debut in a high-stakes game. Devon Smith, the local boy, got his first match of the tournament. If those changes didn't stump you, then the fact that Ian Bradshaw, who has bowled so well with the new ball in the recent past, was kept for the death, and believe it or not, the third powerplay was taken from overs 45-49.
But the way the game began gave little indication of what was to follow. Lara chose to field, another debatable decision, and after 9 overs, with South Africa on 27 for 1, there seemed to be some merit in his choice at the toss. But Kallis soon cleared that debate. He signalled his intentions early on, picking three fours and a six off a single Dwayne Bravo over, creating the opportunities to play big shots by shuffling across the crease or making room. Kallis had come out to make a point, and there was little West Indies' attack - a modest one with no real pace, swing or spin, that was having an ordinary day - could do about it.
de Villiers hits the ball so well and so long, runs so hard between the wickets, and is such a fluent allround batsman that it was only a matter of time before he played a defining innings. Whether he chose the day, or the day chose him, is irrelevant. When he was batting normally, attacking only when he could and defending when he should, the runs still came easily - 50 off 58 balls. It's slightly odd to say so, but the 170-run partnership between Kallis and de Villiers broke at just the right time for South Africa.
Kallis (81) was bowled trying to carve Chris Gayle over the off-side, and as he hobbled off with a turned ankle that had hampered him, the fresh legs of Herschelle Gibbs joined de Villiers, who himself was soon to be severely impacted by a combination of cramps and hamstring hassles. The injury to de Villiers brought no respite. If anything, it made life more miserable for West Indies, as even the pretence of running between the wickets was dropped, and de Villiers dealt in boundaries. The schoolboy smile was replaced by a grimace, and it was near farcical as he clutched his hamstring in obvious pain after almost every ball, having just carted the ball over midwicket or threaded it through cover, down on one knee.
de Villiers finally fell, trying to be a bit too cute, lapping the ball round the corner to be caught at short fine-leg, but by then had rattled off 146 (129 balls, 12 fours, 5 sixes) and taken South Africa to 261 for 3 with almost seven overs left to play. Gibbs, who would end the day completely overshadowed, despite biffing 61 off only 41 balls, and Boucher, watched almost in disbelief as the third Powerplay was taken in the 45th over. For the powerful pair the task proved simpler than picking off tranquilised ducks at low range with a double-barrelled shotgun. Seventy seven runs came from five overs, almost everything disappearing either into the stands, or at any rate to the fence after beating the infield as South Africa ended on 356, helped well along by 14 sixes and 24 fours.
Although taller scores have been chased down in recent times in one-day cricket, not once has it been done by a confused team in disarray. West Indies needed to score at more than seven per over from the word go, and when the top three were dismissed with a mere 69 on the board, only a blinder from Lara could even keep them in the hunt. For a time Lara threatened, lithely striking the ball both sides of point to keep the run-rate up, but when he dragged an offcutter from Kallis back onto his stumps the writing was on the wall - he was gone for 21, and West Indies were reeling at 119 for 4.
Ramnaresh Sarwan did what he could, playing some classy shots in a typically good, if lonely, performance in the course of his 92, but that was not enough. And that was the story of the day for West Indies - nothing they did was quite enough. Daren Powell, who averaged 2.66 before this game, and had scored 24 runs from 21 matches, gleefully bashed the ball around at the end for 48, but all that did was reduce the margin of defeat to 67 runs.
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