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January 11, 2008
The wide, original gap between the teams, so efficiently and unexpectedly closed in the first Test before it began to open again in the second, developed into a familiarly yawning chasm on the opening day of the final, decisive Test at Kingsmead.
They were several contributory factors to the sudden turn of events in a match that, after one lopsided day, has all but settled the series and the Sir Vivian Richards Trophy for South Africa. As was inevitable in spite of their unreasonable hopes that he could somehow front up with a strained hamstring and a fractured thumb, the West Indies had to make do without their injured captain, and feared opening batsman, Chris Gayle, whose wholehearted leadership has been a vital factor in their previously sharp competitiveness.
They were further handicapped by the loss of the toss that subjected their always suspect batting to a stern examination in favourable, overcast conditions by South Africa's strengthened fast seam and swing bowling, supported by sensational catching.
Even before Dwayne Bravo, the West Indies leading wicket-taker in the series, tossed in his new capacity as Gayle's stand-in, it was known that he would play only as captain and batsman since a left side strain, sustained in his marathon 44 overs in the second Test, would prevent him from sending down a single over in the match.
These were heavy actual and psychological blows reflected by the lack of the intensity in the field that had characterised the earlier performances and by bowling from all but Jerome Taylor in sunny, improving weather that was pitifully short of Test standard.
The upshot was 139 all-out from 34.3 overs 40 minutes after lunch, only 18 more than their lowest total in their 13 Tests against South Africa, followed by a ruthless assault, led by the home captain Graeme Smith's 13th Test hundred, that brought 35 fours and a six from 43 overs before fading light mercifully halted the day.
South Africa were then 213 for the solitary loss of Herschelle Gibbs and the left-handed Smith, 122 from 133 balls with 23 fours, was engaged in a partnership of 153 with the right-handed Hashim Amla, 55 from 103 balls with eight fours.
Another wicket never seemed likely as boundary followed boundary but when the chance for one presented itself it was missed.
It was the kind that Gibbs had snaffled up three times during the West Indies innings but Runako Morton, at second slip, only managed to parry an edged drive off Fidel Edwards with his right hand when Amla was 38 and the total 187.
His first day in a Test at the helm was a chastening experience for Bravo, a novice at the job whose only practice had been on this tour in three ODIs in Zimbabwe and a Twenty20 international and a three-day loss to South Africa 'A'.
Now the batting collapse, his own inability to bowl and the downright nonsense served up his bowlers exposed him to unwanted pressure. With such a meagre total, control and discipline were the immediate requirement from the bowlers. It proved beyond Daren Powell and Edwards, chosen in spite of doubt over the hamstring that limited him to 4.5 overs in the previous Test. Powell served up two long hops in the first over that Smith duly belted for boundaries with his favoured pull shot, the returning Gibbs peppered the cover boundary with three breathtaking fours and a six off Edwards and 50 was raised from 40 balls with the six and nine fours.
It left Bravo understandably flummoxed and resigned to filling positions for bad bowling. The dismissal of Gibbs, whose extravagant pull shot off Powell was diverted into the stumps off the under edge in the ninth over, and two successive maidens when Taylor replaced Edwards only temporarily stalled the carnage.
By tea, South Africa has galloped to 67 from 15 overs. Their progress in the last session was even faster, 146 from 28 with 24 fours.
By the end, Edwards had been hammered for 13 fours and the six in conceding 74 from 11 overs. Powell went for ten fours from 12 overs for 60 and the disappointing Darren Sammy, after an encouraging start, was taken for 40 off nine overs with eight fours. Only Taylor was unscathed but, with nine overs for 21, he was underbowled.
It was not long before it became clear what kind of day it would be. Within an hour and ten minutes and 15 overs, the top half of the West Indies order had been disposed of for 33 and it took the bold counter from Denesh Ramdin, Sammy, Taylor and Powell for the last half to add 106 and prevent the first double-figure total since the 97 against England at Kensington Oval in 2004.
Modern West Indies batsmen, without the grounding of English county cricket open to their predecessors, treat the moving ball with deep suspicion. One after the other, their technique failed them as they edged catches between the 'keeper and gully, eight in all.
Daren Ganga went to first slip, Brenton Parchment, on debut, to Gibbs' full-length dive and right-handed catch at gully. Marlon Samuels touched to the keeper and, for once, Shivnarine Chanderpaul didn't manage an epic, taken at first slip third ball off Makhaya Ntini without scoring. Morton was the odd man out, lbw half forward, one of the veteran Shaun Pollock's four victims on his return to Test cricket after a break of almost a year.
For a time, everyone in the lower order played some handsome strokes, stroking 14 fours between them. It confirmed their batting potential but eventually the edge was found and the catch taken.
Bravo and Ramdin went to Gibbs' safe keeping at gully and Sammy to first slip. Taylor, as competent as any with four fours in his 25, broke the sequence, his hook off Pollock yielding an incredible catch by Dale Steyn at fine leg, running in and diving forward to hang on inches from the ground.
It is the type of effort that separates the best teams from the rest - the type that put the West Indies alongside South Africa for two Tests. In the space of a day, it has fallen apart.