Lara magic leads to World Cup opening win for West Indies

After the dazzling display of the 2003 ICC World Cup opening ceremony, the genius of Brian Lara managed to surpass the spectacle and enthrall a capacity crowd of 24,200 in the opening match of the tournament the West Indies and South Africa.

Set a target of 279, South Africa spluttered along before Lance Klusener injected some belated life into the match with 57 from 48 balls, taking the hosts agonisingly close to victory.

Fined an over for a slow over rate, South Africa ended on 275/9, three runs short. For West Indies it was a deserved and brilliant win, notching them four points on the log.

Lara came to the crease with West Indies seven for two in the seventh over, and immediately gave a difficult chance to Jacques Kallis, diving away to his left at second slip, off Makhaya Ntini. Thereafter he never looked back. In a near-perfect display of batting he defended when required, drove with grace and pulled with timed aggression. The longer he stayed, the more menacing the little man with the high back lift became.

His 50 came up off 78 balls, and included five fours and a straight six off the bowling of Allan Donald. His next fifty came up in just 43 balls with the same number of boundaries and another six, this time off Lance Klusener, neatly and cleanly flicked off the legs over square leg.

The brilliance of Lara could only have been ended by brilliance. On 116 he tried to force Ntini to leg, only to get the leading edge and sky the ball into the gap between mid on and mid wicket. Shaun Pollock, running round from mid wicket and diving at the last moment managed to get two hands to the ball and held on as he heavily landed on the turf.

A standing ovation from the Newlands faithful greeted a player who deserved every accolade as he left the field, bat held aloft.

Partnerships of 102 with Shivnarine Chanderpaul (34), incisive in getting the innings back on track, and 89 with Carl Hooper (40) brought respectability to the West Indies total, after they had been on just 215/5 with four overs left.

But a 63-run onslaught in the final four overs from Ricardo Powell and Ramnaresh Sarwan saw the sparkle disappear from the South African eyes. A 23-run over from Pollock, twice dispatched for maximum, allowed the West Indies to reach an excellent total of 278/5.

Apart for the one expensive over, Pollock was again on line and length, claiming the first two wickets in a six-over spell costing only nine runs. Ntini followed his captain's example, finishing with 2/37 in his ten overs.

For the rest, there is a lot of hard work before the next match against Kenya. Donald was wayward and never settled. Klusener was ineffective, while Kallis was left to bowl the final overs. Hooper never gave Nicky Boje a chance to settle.

Herschelle Gibbs and Gary Kirsten got the South African innings off to a good start, adding 46 before Gibbs, on 24, pushed lazily forward to Mervyn Dillon to edge to keeper Ridley Jacobs moving to his right.

Boeta Dippenaar got bogged down before clearing the ropes at cover for maximum, and then immediately shuffling past a Hooper delivery to be stumped for 20.

Kallis edged to Jacobs for 13, and Jonty Rhodes (2) dragged one on from Hooper for South Africa to sit precariously on 117/4. Kirsten and Boucher moved the score to 155 before Kirsten popped a return catch to Dillon for 69 hard-earned runs.

Boucher had made a good quick 49, at a run a ball, when he played over the top of a Gayle yorker after seeing Pollock fall to an excellent catch by Hooper at cover.

Klusener, man of the series in the 1999 tournament in England, had been in a poor run of form. He could not have chosen a better time to regain his confidence. Five sixes and a four helped him to 50 off 43 balls.

He should have been out on 31, but Collins, taking a catch on the boundary, inexplicably took two steps back, and trod on the rope.

A good penultimate over, bowled by Collins, resulted in only five runs, leaving South Africa requiring nine off the last over, bowled by Vasbert Drakes. Klusener mistimed the third ball, lofting it into the deep for Hooper to take a low catch inside the boundary. South Africa were 271/8.

Klusener, not bothering to run, left Ntini instead of Boje to face. Ntini hoisted the fifth ball into the deep for Ramnaresh Sarwan to speed around the cover boundary, taking a comfortable catch with the score still on 271.

With eight runs needed off only one ball, Boje tickled it around the corner for four and West Indies had won by three runs. There were two wickets apiece for Dillon, Collins, Drakes, Hooper and Gayle, but centurion Brian Lara was made man-of-the match.

The game had fluctuated continually and as far as entertainment value goes, was a fitting opener to the 2003 ICC World Cup. May the remainder of the games be as exciting as this one.