Cape Town – Almost inevitably, considering that he has
smouldered but not yet properly caught fire, some observers are suggesting the
big-hitting West Indian Chris Gayle will reserve his ICC Champions Trophy best
for the effective “quarter-final” against South Africa at Cardiff on Friday.
The winners of the clash will be assured of onward passage
to the semi-finals from Group B and the losers definitely go home early, so the
stakes are as high as they could be.
One of modern cricket’s most crowd-pleasing players, given
his reputation in both limited-overs formats, the 33-year-old Jamaican
left-hander got 39 in the tense victory over Pakistan and then 21 in the pretty
heavy loss to in-form India, both at The Oval.
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That often means in his case that a big one is just around
the corner, and South Africa, like virtually all other nations, have felt the
wrath of his powerful, buccaneering stroke-play before in ODIs.
Gayle has registered three centuries in 27 encounters at
this level with the Proteas, and they have tended to be particularly meaty
On South Africa’s side statistically, however, is that Gayle
carnage doesn’t necessarily translate into West Indies triumph: for example,
his personal best knock against the Proteas of 152 not out (run-a-ball stuff)
at the Wanderers in February 2004 wasn’t enough to prevent an SA victory by six
wickets with two balls to spare in pursuit of a stiff 305.
He has also, generally, been kept better in check by South
Africa than other teams – he averages 35 against them, as opposed to an overall
career average of 38.29.
Still, Gayle was also very much to the fore on the last
occasion West Indies beat the Proteas, all of 13 meetings back (in itself a
morale-boosting stat for AB de Villiers’s outfit to take into the game).
That was in the semis of the very Champions Trophy held in
India in 2006/07, when the Caribbean side upset South Africa by a comfortable
six wickets, largely on the back of Gayle’s thunderous 133 not out at Jaipur.
On the Proteas side, only captain De Villiers and spin
bowling all-rounder Robin Peterson will be survivors of that encounter doing
battle once more on Friday.
These teams last met in ODI combat at the last World Cup in
2011, when South Africa cruised to a seven-wicket win at Delhi.
On that occasion debutant leg-spinner Imran Tahir’s four for
41 and De Villiers’s unbeaten 107 provided much of the impetus.
South Africa currently lie second on the Group B table, one
of the two qualifying slots for the semis, considering that their positive net
run rate (0.410) trumps that of the West Indies (-0.086 after their thumping
from unbeaten, already-through India).
It is useful ammunition to have in the event of a no-result
in Cardiff, where each of South Africa and West Indies would bank a point and
end in the same positions on the table they occupy at present with the Proteas thus
On Tuesday there had seemed a good prospect of significant
Friday rain in the Welsh city, although that appears to have been downgraded
fairly considerably a day later.
What South Africa may not want is their old “favourite”
(not!) at major ICC gatherings of a compressed, weather-affected game.
The more the contest is squeezed in overs terms, of course,
the more the West Indian underdogs’ chances only increase ... and anything
slightly resembling a Twenty20 affair would only delight somebody like Gayle.
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