West Indies enter their final zone match of the ICC Champions Trophy against South Africa at Cardiff tomorrow with one equation before them – beat the Proteas or go home.
But today they faced the prospect of dealing with an ‘opponent’ they cannot defeat – the weather.
It was overcast the entire day, with frequent rain, and showers are forecast for tomorrow. If the weather has the final say and there is no game played then South Africa will progress by virtue of a better net run-rate.
Today captain Dwayne Bravo and his men trained in the indoor nets at Sophia Gardens to the sounds of soul and reggae music from a stereo system.
But if cricket is played the West Indies will fancy their chances – Dale Steyn or no Dale Steyn – as they have had the upper hand on South Africa in major international limited overs tournaments.
On three occasions, West Indies have been responsible for South Africa taking the next flight home and their cavalier confidence has often given them the edge over a team paranoid of failure.
West Indies and South Africa have met three times during the knockout stages in big tournaments with the windies leading the count 2-1 so far. South Africa defeated them in the final of the 1999 Wills International Cup, but West Indies won in the 1996 World Cup quarter-finals and in the semi-finals of the 2006 Champions Trophy.
Today Bravo resurrected the “chokers” tag with which the South Africans have been tagged in the past and to which they do not take kindly.
“I think the South Africans will feel the pressure. They know if they lose, they are going back home. They have a tag of being chokers that do not do well in big tournaments, so that would be added pressure on them,” Bravo said.
The West Indies captain added: “We’re going to enjoy the occasion and forget about what happens in previous games. It’s a tournament. It’s a knockout game. We’ve been in this situation before and done well, so no pressure is on us. I’m not worried about the record of the previous games. I’m really excited and looking forward to this game tomorrow.”
The response to Bravo was almost immediate – but from an unexpected source.
‘Not the smartest move’
South Africa Test captain Graeme Smith, who is not part of the One-Day squad because of an ankle injury, commented by writing on Twitter: “Never mind pressure on Proteas, Dwayne Bravo just put it all on himself! Not the smartest move from him I reckon.”
The West Indies, who have lost the last 12 One-Day meetings [outside international tournaments] with South Africa dating back to 2006, enter tomorrow’s match with major concerns about their batting. They have played out 359 dot balls so far in two matches. The highest partnership is 78 with only two batsmen making half-centuries – Johnson Charles and Darren Sammy have one each.
The middle-order that includes Marlon Samuels, Kieron Pollard, Ramnaresh Sarwan, Darren Bravo and the captain, has under-performed, scoring at an average of 16.12 with a strike-rate of 53.97.
Sarwan, in particular, has once again been abysmal with two runs in two matches and his place in the starting eleven could best be utilised going to a bowler, either in the form of Tino Best or preferably Jason Holder. Opener Chris Gayle has had starts but his One-Day International form continues to be a worry. Samuels, who has been bothered by injuries of late, appears a bit rusty and in need of time in the middle.
Captain Bravo today suggested that his team’s batsmen had to give a bit more thought to their shot selection.
“In a game there are times when you need to think on your feet – for example, when to go for the big shots. We need – all of us, myself included – to know when to take a risk or when to hold back like if you just lose a wicket,” Bravo said.
“I don’t need to play this shot, I need to play this shot. So that’s a bit of common sense: knowing when to gamble and when not to gamble.”
West Indies will also be hoping for a better bowling performance than their last match.
After bowling brilliantly against Pakistan, the bowlers, with the exception of Sunil Narine, were taken apart by India in their second match where they were guilty of bowling too much on the short side. Narine, though, could be their trump. He has encountered some of the South Africans such as David Miller, captain AB de Villiers and Chris Morris at the IPL but has never played against South Africa and he may well be relishing the opportunity.
Despite reams of video evidence, Narine remains difficult to pick – with both his off-break and doosra bowled out of the front of the hand and made trickier by his pace. Although the stereotype about South Africa’s batsmen being spun into submission doesn’t apply anymore, he could still cause ample problems for a team under pressure.
Steyn’s return to fitness is a major boost for South Africa as he always poses a clear and present danger. de Villiers was optimistic that he would be ready for tomorrow’s critical match.
“He bowled at 100 per cent intensity yesterday [Wednesday], and it was sort of the first part of his fitness assessment and today he’s doing a bit more. He’s 99.9 per cent ready, but we’re just going to make sure that he’ll be ready to go. It’s almost a yes, just not yet. Just got to wait a few hours and then we’ll make the final call, but it’s looking good,” de Villiers said.
Both teams expressed confidence today about winning the key encounter tomorrow.
Now it is all about getting cooperation from the weather.
Teams: South Africa: (probable) 1 Colin Ingram, 2 Hashim Amla, 3 Faf du Plessis, 4 AB de Villiers (capt, wk), 5 JP Duminy, 6 David Miller, 7 Ryan McLaren 8 Robin Peterson 9 Chris Morris, 10 Dale Steyn/Aaron Phangiso, 11 Lonwabo Tsotsobe West Indies: (probable) 1 Chris Gayle, 2 Johnson Charles (wk), 3 Darren Bravo, 4 Marlon Samuels, 5 Ramnaresh Sarwan, 6 Dwayne Bravo (capt), 7 Kieron Pollard, 8 Darren Sammy, 9 Sunil Narine, 10 Ravi Rampaul, 11 Kemar Roach