Parnell keeps South African juggernaut rolling
There is only one team that can beat South Africa in this kind of form and at The Oval, it wasn't West Indies. On a true, hard pitch, Herschelle Gibbs and Jacques Kallis led South Africa to 183 against an attack understandably drained from a second game in less than 24 hours. An unspectacular, solid bowling performance from Wayne Parnell and Roelof van der Merwe then spiked West Indies' chase, rendering Lendl Simmons' fine hand futile. Parnell picked up four wickets to leave West Indies short by 20 runs, South Africa with a record-breaking sixth consecutive T20I win and a semi-final spot all but sealed.
Apart from brief spells with bat and ball, South Africa's frighteningly ruthless, well-rehearsed march to glory was rarely disturbed. All eyes are fixed firmly on the prize and distractions such as decent opposition teams barely make the equation. For 15 overs with the bat they barely broke sweat, humming along comfortably at over eight an over, wickets in hand, singles and doubles taking a back seat to a bucket-load of boundaries. Matters appeared ominous from the very off. As fierce as Jerome Taylor and Fidel Edwards had been against India, so they were meek today. Lengths in the first six overs were fuller, unnecessarily so. Graeme Smith and Kallis took toll in a quick fifty partnership. It didn't feel quite like a flood of boundaries at first, more a steady, inevitable trickle; ten boundaries and sixes came during the Powerplay on an outfield with less friction than an ice-skating rink.
Kallis contributed, inevitably, to the inevitability of things, a fitting poster-boy for this side. Like someone on a first date, he never fully let himself go but impressed nonetheless. The range was there and shots correct, but none for the heart's eye. Some streaky shots were thrown in, as if to prove that he can do this format. Until he fell for 45, having established himself as the tournament's leading scorer, the performance had felt curiously like listening to Kraftwerk, the pioneering German electronica band: obviously admirable and very good but lacking soul, robotic even.
Thank god then for Gibbs, who brought a wonderfully uncontrolled contrast. Shots were manufactured and risks taken. As spin replaced pace, out came Gibbs' dancing shoes, smashing Chris Gayle straight down the ground and scything Suleiman Benn over point. He brought up the hundred in only the 12th over, on one knee smashing straight down the ground. Two overs later, Simmons was lofted for six and inside out for four. But having reached a fifty the next over, just when his impishness was at a fair peak, he went for 55.
That wicket briefly let West Indies back into it. Taylor and Edwards returned to the ways of last night, mixing and matching pace and length. Runs were controlled, wickets taken; Taylor ended with three and a reasonable 45 came from the last five. Though Edwards bowled a poor last over, on this pitch, West Indies might have fancied the chase.
They didn't. Within the first four overs, both openers had gone, Parnell's Christmas coming early with two gifts. Simmons and Dwayne Bravo threatened an encore, first swiping 18 runs in Kallis' first over; Simmons was particularly ferocious, really wanting to hurt the ball with each shot. Even though it was the penultimate over of the Powerplay, it sparked the West Indian counter.
Bravo spurred Simmons on until he fell, reprising another of those fabulous inside-out extra cover lofts, in the ninth over to van der Merwe. Thereafter the result rested purely on Simmons' slim shoulders. He grabbed a brace of boundaries off Johan Botha and brought up fifty right after it. Shivnarine Chanderpaul came and went in a haze of reverse-sweeps but on Simmons went: in the 13th over, he lofted the difficult-to-loft van der Merwe for a fantastic six to bring up the team century.
Twelve came from the next over, from JP Duminy, and as Simmons hooked Kallis for another four, an improbable hero was emerging.
That, alas, was as close as it got, for the maddeningly mechanical van der Merwe finally got Simmons for a wonderful 77 and the game was up. The only team that can beat South Africa in this form? South Africa themselves.
Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of Cricinfo