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April 10, 2007
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."
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."
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