South Africa vs West Indies | Friday 14 June | Cardiff | 11:30
The Proteas live to fight another day. As it has transpired in Group B, Pakistan is now out of the tournament and can only attempt to salvage pride with a pointless dead rubber against India, who are already through to the semi-finals. That leaves the last semi-final spot up for grabs and this fixture between South Africa and West Indies to decide it. The Windies looked dangerous against Pakistan but came up short against India, as did the Proteas. In both sides, the bowling attack is the strength at the moment and this could serve up a fascinating encounter on English pitches that are on the unexpectedly slow side.
South Africa 6/10
West Indies 13/10
Many believed that the Proteas’ bowling lineup, missing two figureheads in Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel, would find it difficult to defend the below-par total set by the South African batsmen against Pakistan. Although the pitches in the Champions Trophy have so far proved to be slow and difficult to score on, the Proteas got off to a good start and failed to capitalise on it, finishing on 234 from their 50 overs. If they make the semi-finals, they’ll need to look at finding at least another thirty runs in big match situations in order to be competitive. Amla, dropped early, was graceful as usual on his way to 81 and was backed up by small contributions in the middle order. South Africa require bigger middle-order contributions, setting up freedom for the power hitters at the end. Luckily, the bowling was frugal as well as imposing, leaving Pakistan little room for error. Tsotsobe was tight, Morris aggressive and Phangiso intelligent. The balance of having three seamers and three spinners proved very effective on the sluggish track. They’ll need to keep up the same intensity against a potentially devastating, but altogether inconsistent West Indian batting lineup.
The Windies were off to a strong start against India before the introduction of Ravindra Jadeja. They were cruising at 92/1 from 17 overs and Johnson Charles was beginning to show why he is such an impressive force at the top of the order alongside Chris Gayle. However, the West Indies were done all ends up by Jadeja, slumping to 182/9 and only a rear guard blitzkrieg from Darren Sammy could inflate their total anywhere near something defendable. Sammy yet again demonstrated his worth in the lower-order and the Windies will be forced to think again before leaving him out. Gayle is yet to fire in the tournament and although this tends to be an ominous sign, his performances in a West Indian jersey are more hit-and-miss than his IPL exploits. However, he does like scoring runs against South Africa. If both him and Charles fire at the top of the order, with Dwayne Bravo and Kieron Pollard coming in later, it could be a long day in the field for the Proteas. That being said, the West Indies looked flat in the field against India, lacking hunger and aggression and one feels that it is a case of the opposition having to play badly to lose, rather than the West Indies playing well to win.
Although there were runs aplenty in the opening match of the tournament hosted at Cardiff, New Zealand and Sri Lanka both struggled to post anything past 130 in a more recent encounter. McCullum is quoted as saying that the pitch is incredibly difficult to bat on, but I suppose it depends on which strip is used. Narine could prove a gamebreaker, as well as the way South Africa’s spinner are deployed.
BEST: Top West Indian Batsman, Johnson Charles 4/1
Of all the West Indian batsmen so far in the tournament, Charles has looked the most settled and in form. When he gets it right, his timing is incredible and he can be a very difficult batsman to bowl to, being slightly unorthodox in his strokeplay. He plays with typical Caribbean freedom, and you should be comfortable betting in the same manner.
VERDICT: South Africa 6/10
One gets the feeling that the Proteas have to start winning big matches if they are ever going to shake the tag that must not be named. And they may as well start here. South Africa have a good record against the West Indies and may hold the advantage in their pace attack, with the Caribbean becoming slower over the years. There’s no more time for complacency.
Disagree with Maverick? Let us hear your thoughts. Please comment below.