South Africa whitewash hosts in tense finish
The humiliation was complete, but only moments after it seemed West Indies had done enough to avert it. Partly misfortune but mostly indiscipline cost them the fifth and final ODI in Port of Spain to ensure South Africa swept an ODI series 5-0 for the third time against West Indies. The wickets of half-centurions Jacques Kallis and JP Duminy had helped the hosts wrest control of the game, but Jerome Taylor's inopportune injury, Dwayne Bravo's poor death bowling and Kieron Pollard's nervy last over deprived the hosts of an elusive face-saving win.
South Africa's lower order had been untested this series due to the success of their frontline batsmen, but prevailed through a combination of luck and mettle. Jerome Taylor, who bowled Duminy in the 44th over to put his team ahead, tormented Ryan McLaren with deliveries outside off stump that the batsman consistently struggled to hit. The effect was increasing pressure on the visitors that was relaxed when Taylor's niggles returned to haunt him.
As Taylor walked off the field, Bravo and Pollard, two bowlers adept at changing their pace, had to shoulder the responsibility of restricting South Africa. But the more experienced among them erred in strategy and direction, opting to target the stumps as opposed to Taylor's ploy of troubling the batsmen outside off. He conceded three wides, was struck for a boundary through midwicket and chipped over the in-field in the 47th over which cost 13 and brought the equation to 19 off 18.
Pollard's next over, which only went for two, restored West Indies' advantage with the wickets of Johan Botha and McLaren. But Bravo again let it slip, bowling too wide to be sliced for four before gifting a full toss to van der Merwe who drove him past mid-off for another boundary. He made amends somewhat with the wicket of Charl Langeveldt to make it nine down, but Pollard's nerves failed him in the last over off which the visitors needed seven. He doled out a short delivery that van der Merwe dispatched over square leg and gave the No.11 Lonwabo Tsotsobe just the delivery he needed to launch his ODI batting career - a short and wide delivery cracked through the covers to seal West Indies' fate with two balls to spare.
The chase, however, was set up by Kallis, who played with an assuredness conspicuous in its absence when West Indies were batting. Joining Hashim Amla after the early loss of Graeme Smith, he quickly settled in with consecutive boundaries off David Bernard. When the field spread, he had no trouble working the field, an approach he stuck to despite the loss of two prolific partners in Amla and AB de Villiers within a space of five overs. The situation was a tough one to adapt to for a player searching for form, but Duminy found his game in typically busy fashion, as he struck just one four in his 52, while supporting Kallis in a 58-run fourth-wicket stand. Though their wickets shifted the balance, the depth in batting ensured they had achieved enough.
West Indies' performance with the bat in the final two ODIs improved markedly but there remained existing glitches that South Africa's bowlers managed to exploit. In conditions favourable for batting, they went through periods of stagnation, a problem highlighted by Chris Gayle at the end of the previous game as well, despite them reaching 303. It was largely due to a Narsingh Deonarine-initiated late surge that West Indies scored 252, with assistance from Pollard and Darren Sammy.
The bounce remained true and the South African seamers consistently pitched short of a good length. While getting the ball to cut both ways and testing the batsmen with variations in pace, they were helped by one end being held up by Shivnarine Chanderpaul. For three consecutive overs did Gayle pick a single off the first ball, only to watch his partner gobble up the remaining deliveries. The agony was cast aside with each batsman striking Tsotsobe for fours in the eighth over, but Gayle failed to consolidate his start yet again, mistiming an attempted pull off a slower ball straight to mid-on in Ryan Mclaren's first over.
The introduction of spin choked West Indies further. Now it was Darren Bravo who didn't get going. Attacked by Botha from round the wicket and van der Merwe's nagging lengths, Darren Bravo failed to break free. Such was the difficulty in pinching the singles that his batting was confined to dabbing the ball around the in-field, with just eight runs scored off his first 31 deliveries. When he finally decided to open up, and played a convincing lofted drive, he was pouched brilliantly by Mark Boucher at extra cover, without the keeping gloves for the first time in his 292-ODI career.
Though Deonarine, backed by Pollard and Sammy's power-play at the end of the innings, combined muscle with an innovative quest for runs to help score 86 off the last eight overs, the failure of Chanderpaul and Darren Bravo to push on despite wickets in hand meant the eventual score was always one that an in-form South Africa would back themselves chasing.
Siddhartha Talya is an editorial assistant at Cricinfo