Botha, seamers make it South Africa's day
South Africa's decision to play an extra spinner on a track that has traditionally been the most favourable for fast bowlers in the Caribbean paid rich dividends. Offspinner Johan Botha, replacing Lonwabo Tsotsobe, crippled West Indies with three quick wickets, undermining the resistance that the hosts had determinedly built after the early loss of the openers. Dwayne Bravo and Denesh Ramdin then battled the bowlers in a 76-run stand, but the seamers, led by Jacques Kallis, bowled with venom after tea to end a disappointing West Indies performance in conditions far friendlier than what Barbados has offered in the past.
Botha was introduced as early as the 11th over and bowled in tandem with left-arm spinner Paul Harris, who, too, beat the bat on more than one occasion. The pair varied their lengths well and attacked throughout their respective spells, with a slip and two short legs. Prior to lunch, they had been negotiated with relative ease by Shivnarine Chanderpaul, who had built a solid half-century stand with Narsingh Deonarine to put the West Indies innings on track. Despite the unsettling turn, the pair displayed sound footwork and kept the singles coming by, negating the pressure created by the close-in fielders. However, the turnaround wasn't too far.
The three wickets that followed summed up the variations in Botha's spin-bowling armoury. In the first over after the break, Botha managed to lure Chanderpaul forward with his flight and produced an outside edge as the ball dipped and turned away. Kallis had little time to react at slip, but reached out with his left hand to complete a brilliant catch. The in-form Brendan Nash, in Botha's next over, was deceived by the turn, trapped in front off a delivery that pitched on leg, straightened, and was going to hit middle and off. Though ruled not out by Simon Taufel, a referral prompted a reversal.
Deonarine's downfall was as much a consequence of his ill-planned change in approach as Botha's skill. Chanderpaul's wicket prompted him to abandon the solidity he had displayed prior to the lunch break, and initiate a counter-attack against the seamers brought on to replace Harris. Two deliveries off Morne Morkel flew off the outside edge to the boundary, before a crisply driven four through cover. He had finished on lunch at 28 off 86 balls, and raced to 18 off 19 in the second session before failing to spot a quicker delivery from Botha to be bowled.
Bravo and Ramdin, though, restored stability to the innings. Bravo combined some delightful wristwork with excellent timing, his flicked six off Botha being the highlight of his half-century. Along with Ramdin, who was his usual busy self, Bravo proved adept at handling spin, often chipping down the track, trying to get to the pitch and striking the ball in the V. Though the spinners would have felt frustrated at the resistance, the seamers sensed a chance all through the partnership.
Bravo has had his problems with the short ball this series, and Kallis and Dale Steyn wasted no time ruffling him up. With a tendency to take his eye off the ball and an aversion to ducking, Bravo's weakness was continually exploited, and the bowlers didn't mind conceding the odd wide for height in their persistence in troubling him with the short ball. It was Ramdin who first dropped his guard, top-edging an attempted hook off Kallis straight to Steyn at fine leg. Shane Shillingford, too, was given the same treatment, and fended a ball to gully after being struck on the arm the previous delivery. The temptation to dispatch a length ball, following a barrage of short ones, proved too strong for Bravo, and he was gone soon after, edging Steyn to slip.
There was encouragement for the hosts at the start, as Chris Gayle met the lack of support in the track for the seamers with aggression. Swing and shape were hard to find but the bowlers didn't have to wait too long for the batsmen to flounder. Morkel induced Dale Richards to play across the line and trapped him in front. Gayle misread the length from Steyn, trying to slash a delivery that was fuller than expected, and chopped the ball back onto the stumps for the third time this series.
All eyes were on surprise debutant Brandon Bess when West Indies came out to bowl. They had suffered a setback even before the start of the game, losing Nelon Pascal to a neck injury. Bess, a recruit from Guyana at the newly-established High Performance Centre in Bridgetown, was rushed to the venue. However, he proved expensive, dropping short to Graeme Smith who began his team's innings positively. Smith was equally comfortable pulling the seamers through midwicket and whipping them through square, and didn't hesitate to charge the spinners and drive them past mid-on.
Things, however, didn't progress so smoothly at the other end. Alviro Peterson was caught after mistiming a pull, and Hashim Amla fell tamely, slashing Sulieman Benn straight to point. Those two wickets, both avoidable, were rare moments of unease for the visitors on a day they otherwise dominated.
Siddhartha Talya is an editorial assistant at Cricinfo