West Indies v South Africa, Super Eights, Grenada

South Africa regain their freedom

Andrew Miller in Grenada

April 10, 2007

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Jacques Kallis has batted aggressively since the Australia game and set up South Africa with 81 from 86 balls against West Indies © Getty Images

As West Indies contemplated their navels and prepared to say farewell to their own World Cup party, South Africa's captain, Graeme Smith, expressed his delight at the manner in which his team had bounced back from their defeat against Bangladesh. The eventual 67-run margin was by no means flattering to a side that had the game under control from the earliest moments of the West Indian reply, after posting a huge 356 for 4 in their 50 overs.

"It's obviously very important," Smith said of the win that takes his side to six points in the Super Eights table with two games remaining against England and New Zealand. "After the last game and the quick turnaround, there were always going to be some nerves around this morning. But to come out and play the way we did today, under that amount of pressure, was so important."

The slow, low surface at the Providence Stadium in Guyana had not been to South Africa's liking - they posted just 184 in their defeat against Bangladesh and came close to throwing away an unassailable position in their one-wicket victory over Sri Lanka. But today they batted as if they were back in Basseterre, swatting 14 sixes and 24 fours in an imposing performance led by AB de Villiers' 146.

"We felt we were a little bit tentative against Bangladesh and we wanted to really come out and express ourselves this time," Smith said. "We got ourselves to the top ranking by playing our natural game, and we discussed how we just occasionally put ourselves under pressure by not sticking to what we do best. We wanted to relax and go back to that today and play with freedom, and a bit of brain."

The Bangladesh loss led to South Africa's surrendering of their No. 1 status amid the usual accusations that they choke when it comes to the big matches. But Smith was in a bullish mood as he rubbished the claims that his team had been divided during their lengthy stay in Guyana.

"We just played really poorly against Bangladesh and we knew we'd let ourselves down," Smith said. "Every one of us felt bad after that game, but some of the stuff that's been going around back home about the team being divided and in pieces and fighting is all crap - so it's really nice for the guys to bounce back the way they did."

AB de Villiers: "When I got to a hundred I knew I had to go for it and play my shots because I knew the guys after that could hit the ball even further" © Getty Images

In particular Jacques Kallis has borne the brunt of much criticism, especially since his sluggish performance in the run-chase against Australia in St Kitts. But today it was his dismantling of Dwayne Bravo in the second Powerplay that laid the platform for South Africa's victory.

"Since the Australia game, Jacques has played pretty aggressively and his strike-rates have been up there," Smith said. "Today he played some superb shots and got the ball rolling - and then AB [de Villiers] followed suit. It was always going to be tough to bat up front today, and Jacques' experience shone through. There was a lot of moisture in the first 10 to 12 overs."

After Kallis had perished for 81, it was de Villiers who took centre stage, defying a painful bout of cramp and dehydration to slug his way to 146 of the finest runs. "I was actually trying to get out," he joked, "but that didn't work, so I had to play through the cramps. I stayed there for much longer than I thought I would, but when I got to a hundred I knew I had to go for it and play my shots - because I knew the guys after that could hit the ball even further than me."

New Zealand are next in line for a South African side who are firmly back on track after their hiccup against Bangladesh, and victory over Stephen Fleming's unbeaten side will give them one foot in the semi-finals "It's a big game," Smith said. "New Zealand have played well in the tournament, but if we can play the type of game we played today - allowing our natural ability to come through and allow us to attack - it will bode well."

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo

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Andrew Miller Andrew Miller was saved from a life of drudgery in the City when his car caught fire on the way to an interview. He took this as a sign and fled to Pakistan where he witnessed England's historic victory in the twilight at Karachi (or thought he did, at any rate - it was too dark to tell). He then joined Wisden Online in 2001, and soon graduated from put-upon photocopier to a writer with a penchant for comment and cricket on the subcontinent. In addition to Pakistan, he has covered England tours in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, as well as the World Cup in the Caribbean in 2007
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