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West Indies will begin the fifth and final day of the first Test in Guyana needing eight more wickets to complete one of the most improbable victories of their rocky recent history, after another day of steady manoeuvring at Georgetown. By the close, South Africa had limped to 85 for 2 in their second innings from 63 tortuous overs, with the two Jacques - Kallis and Rudolph - looking for nothing more extravagant than dot balls. On a wicket that shows no signs of deteriorating markedly, the key moment of the final day will arrive in the second hour of the morning, when the second new ball becomes available.
South Africa began the day on a parlous 130 for 6, still 413 runs adrift of West Indies first-innings total and with the follow-on seemingly inevitable. Sure enough, after a frustrating first hour, West Indies chiselled through the remaining resistance to bowl South Africa out for 188, and sent them back out to face their demons for a three-over spell just before the lunch break. Though Graeme Smith and AB de Villiers batted with great application throughout the afternoon session, both men fell after tea to give West Indies renewed hope of taking a 1-0 lead in the series.
de Villiers was first to go, in the very first over after the resumption, as Reon King persuaded him to drag the ball into his stumps, playing a similar shot to his first-innings dismissal, when he was caught behind off the inside-edge. Jacques Rudolph began edgily - on 0, a top-edge flew in the vicinity of deep square-leg before, two runs later, he was missed at slip by Devon Smith off the spin of Narsingh Deonarine - but the big breakthrough was that of the captain, Smith. He had played with unflinching resilience for 142 balls, until Pedro Collins curled an inswinger past a flashy drive, and into the middle-and-leg stumps via a thin inside-edge.
It was the crucial breakthrough. In the absence of Shaun Pollock, South Africa have been forced to drop a batsman to accommodate an extra bowler, and much now rests on the shoulders of Jacques Kallis, whose determination will have been fuelled by a first-innings duck. So far, however, the West Indies' pace attack has struggled to find the same life and zest that they enjoyed in the first innings. Daren Powell again ran in hard, and rushed Smith on occasions, but generally the openers were able to ride any extra bounce, and had plenty of time to adjust to any movement. As the light faded, Shivnarine Chanderpaul turned to his spin pairing of Deonarine and Ryan Hinds, who could have removed Rudolph on 14, when he dived full-stretch to his right, but spilled a return catch off a full-toss.
On the whole, however, Chanderpaul's captaincy was disappointing. The spinners rarely had more than two close catchers, and he seemed willing to let proceedings drift. But South Africa have scored so slowly, less than 1.5 runs an over, that there is no need for Chanderpaul to worry about the runs any longer, and if West Indies can quickly remove one of their two incumbent batsmen, they will fancy their chances. A mere six wickets on this fourth day, however, does not augur well for their prospects of a victory push.
The first hour's play had been a hint of the pace to follow, as South Africa's last recognised pair of Mark Boucher and Nicky Boje chiselled away in an attempt to run down the clock. But once the breakthrough had been made, South Africa's resistance crumbled swiftly before lunch. Each member of West Indies' three-pronged seam attack - King, Collins and Powell - grabbed their third scalp of the innings, before the debutant Deonarine took his maiden Test wicket to apply the coup de grace to an abject performance.
After another burst of heavy overnight rain, it was something of a surprise that play was able to get underway on time, although West Indies were slightly lacklustre in the opening exchanges, with Collins serving up a spate of no-balls. When King entered the attack, however, his extra pace and accuracy rattled both batsmen and after a close lbw appeal against Boucher, King came around the wicket to Boje to force the breakthrough. On 34, Boje played tentatively to a perfect length delivery, that clipped his pad and flitted through the gate to hit off stump. Collins deservedly picked up Boucher's wicket, to end a determined innings, after inducing him to chase a wide ball.
At the start of the match, the mere notion of West Indies being in this sort of situation was laughable. The fear of failure, however, has resided entirely in South Africa's camp, and that may yet play into West Indian hands. How Smith and Co. will now be wishing they had played a warm-up match.
Boje b King 34 (158 for 7) Round the wicket, cramped for room, clipped off via pad
Ntini lbw b Powell 8 (169 for 8) Trapped plumb in front as he swished across the line
Boucher c Chanderpaul b Collins 41 (172 for 9) Chased a wide outswinger, fat edge to first slip
Langeveldt c R Hinds b Deonarine 10 (188 for 10) Full toss, elegantly driven to short cover
South Africa 2nd innings
de Villiers b King 20 (46 for 1) Inside-edge onto his stumps, trying to force through off side
Smith b Collins 34 (68 for 2) Flashy drive, inside-edge onto middle-and-leg