Second Test

West Indies v South Africa, 2004-05

Telford Vice


At Port-of-Spain, April 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 2005. South Africa won by eight wickets. Toss: West Indies.

Ntini's relentlessness outweighed Lara's genius, and South Africa claimed a victory in a match harder fought than the result might suggest. Lara's 196 was batting at its most beautiful: his bat cut poetic curves as he executed his strokes with purpose and poise, and the ball seemed destined for the boundary even before he hit it. Ntini ran in, and ran in, and ran in some more. When he finally took a decent rest he had captured 13 wickets for 132 runs, the best figures for South Africa in a Test.

The match began amid intense anticipation at Lara's return to the team, though not the captaincy, after the temporary settlement of the sponsorship dispute. Gayle, Sarwan and Bravo also returned, but it was clear there was only paper over the cracks, and in Trinidad (where Digicel do not have a presence as a service provider), the issue burned on: "This is not Digihell country," said one banner at the Queen's Park Oval. A game - at first amusing but later tiresome - then ensued between security men who took the signs down and spectators who put them up again elsewhere.

There was, in any case, much richer entertainment on the field. Lara's innings stood out in dazzling relief from the ordinary cricket that surrounded it. He reached the close unbeaten on 159 out of West Indies' teetering score of 281 for six. It was his 27th Test hundred in his 113th Test, a West Indies record. It also put Lara third on the overall list of highest run-scorers, behind just Allan Border and Steve Waugh. But it was also notable that his colleagues, who rose to their responsibility so magnificently at Georgetown, were now content to bat in his shadow.

Despite an impishly unpredictable pitch, Lara never looked as though he was playing his first first-class innings in eight months. He was on the mountain top, and on the second morning the only question was whether the tail would last long enough to let him reach his double-century. There was astonishment when Nel came round the wicket and, with Lara just one boundary away from the landmark, produced an outswinger that clipped his off bail.

South Africa could not match him for spectacle, and Graeme Smith did not even try. Instead, Smith slowed the game down - so much so that 90 overs on the third day brought just 188 runs. But they cost only three wickets, which in turn seemed to cost the flagging West Indians their stomach for a fight. That returned the next morning when Gayle opened the bowling and immediately gobbled a leading edge from Boucher. Gayle's innocuous-looking flighted off-spin proved deadly, and he took four for nine in 29 balls, limiting the deficit to 51. By the close West Indies had turned that into a lead of 119 runs, and it seemed the match was roughly balanced.

Crucially, though, the home side had lost five wickets including Lara, bowled for four by a subterranean turner from Boje, and Chanderpaul, trapped in front by Ntini for one. And the final day belonged to Ntini, who at the start had three for 34 and in no time had career-best figures of seven for 37. He began the final assault when Bravo was caught behind with his third delivery of the morning, and his freedom to rip through what remained of the West Indies order was enhanced significantly by Nel's aggressive accuracy at the other end. The five wickets cascaded for 24 runs, and Sarwan was left on 107 not out.

South Africa needed what could have been a challenging 144 on what had become a disagreeable pitch, but Smith and de Villiers guaranteed victory with a bristling opening stand of 117.

Man of the Match: M. Ntini.

© John Wisden & Co.