Cricket World Cup 2011

Proteas’ unorthodoxy pays off

2011-02-24 19:49
Imran Tahir (Gallo Images)

Comment: Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer

Cape Town – I had confidently predicted the ease of South Africa’s victory over West Indies in Delhi to set their World Cup campaign in impressive motion.

VIDEO: Imran Tahir on his dream debut

VIDEO: Highlights Tahir wickets

But yes, I was also as pitifully flummoxed as I might have been by an Imran Tahir googly in my pre-match tip for their game-plan, which ended up deviating quite violently - not to mention so productively! - from their more customary “let’s go with what we know and trust” formula.

Tahir to actually get a game first-up, in a spin arsenal unprecedented in its sheer weight for the Proteas, Johan Botha to take first over ... it caught me off-guard, just as it pretty certainly did West Indies batting dangerman Chris Gayle, almost immediately winkled out as the limited Caribbean outfit were placed firmly on the back foot.

They never really managed to grab back a meaningful form of stranglehold on the contest, even though Darren Bravo demonstrated some very Lara-like chutzpah and style in his innings of 73 – a big chunk of their insufficient total of 222 all out.

The other Bravo, his much more experienced older brother Dwayne, also prospered for a while at the crease but later suffered an appalling setback at the Feroz Shah Kotla when he was carried off after falling awkwardly and damaging a knee in his bowling follow-through.

He is a fairly key member of a ho-hum West Indies attack and the all-rounder delivering only 13 balls hardly helped their failed quest to curb a rampant man-of-the-match AB de Villiers, who struck as polished a run-a-ball century as you will see.

“You could count his false strokes on the fingers of one hand, and that doesn’t even include the thumb,” said admiring, veteran television commentator and long-suffering West Indies monitor Tony Cozier.

De Villiers certainly timed it a treat – he said afterwards it had been anything but for him in lead-up net sessions, which only demonstrates cricket’s quirkiness – right from the outset.

And remember that he took guard with the Proteas a disconcerting 20 for two, Hashim Amla and a rusty Jacques Kallis back in the pavilion and some early murmurs about the competence (read: otherwise) of South Africa’s tail.

Happily, in the end, none of the men occupying the berths from No 7 down were even required to put on their pads, but some SA enthusiasts are sure to remain nervous about the possibility that they are called into meaningful duty in a really important, touch-and-go match later in the long tournament.

It must have been a fairly close-run thing in separating De Villiers from debutant leg-spinner Tahir for the post-game award, and the former did have the good grace to hail the Pakistan-born phenomenon for his “amazing calmness and composure”.

The really joyous aspect, apart from his eye-catching analysis of 10-1-41-4, was the ample evidence on offer - even taking into account the fleetingness of an ODI stint - that South Africa can finally welcome and embrace a strike bowler who happens to be a spinner.

I would bet my last dollar that Tahir, who I had earlier wished might have debuted for the Proteas at Test level first, will now soar to the forefront of the country’s five-day plans as well, even if that format is in a lengthy recess phase.

The fact that he and a more established factor in South African “wickets column” terms, Dale Steyn, caused some carnage to the West Indies innings even as they weighed up a late-innings onslaught that simply couldn’t take root, explained why the underdogs were dismissed quite well inside the 50-overs mark.

It was typical of long-time West Indian strategic eccentricity, too, that they took the last powerplay with a flimsy two wickets standing.

The Proteas were broadly alert and fired-up in the field, with Morne Morkel and Robin Peterson performing better than their figures suggested and just about all catches going assuredly to hand.

Like De Villiers, Smith and JP Duminy are now up and running in valuable crease-time terms, even if the captain was scratchy and prevented from ever getting into his beloved “dominator” mode – but it turns out that he was feeling a little poorly so that may partly explain his relative struggle.

Best of all, though, South Africa made a powerful statement to all World Cup comers on Thursday that they will suddenly not be nearly as easy to “read” in their intentions.

And that new spirit of unpredictability is an extra string to their already solid bow.


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