SACricketmag.com looks ahead to the five key battles that awaits South Africa when they take on the West Indies in a crucial World Cup pool match in Sydney on Friday.
Imran Tahir v Chris Gayle
South Africa could pull off a major coup, if confident enough to open the bowling with Imran Tahir, or at least deploy him as a first-change bowler. This fillip would have, ideally, suited Duminy – but he probably won’t play due to a side strain. Gayle is very acquainted with dispatching fast bowlers to all corners during the opening powerplay – and taking the pace off the ball should work a treat. Conditions at the Sydney Cricket Ground – probably Australia’s most spin-friendly venue – would aid the ploy. Gayle, easily bored, has a tendancy to act prematurely against the slower bowlers. The experiment might pay off handsomely. Tahir’s spell doesn’t have to be substantial. A mere over or two will suffice. The plan will work – or not. South Africa can make alternate arrangements – or revert to the status quo – from there. Think former New Zealand spinner Dipak Patel, circa 1992 World Cup. He opened the bowling with some success in Australasian conditions. Either way, the best laid plans of a man oozing with confidence, on the back of a world-record double century against Zimbabwe, must be halted – and quickly.
Farhaan Behardien v Jonathan Carter
Wayne Parnell won’t likely get a second chance, after travelling for plenty of expense during last week’s defeat to India. Behardien, then, should return to the XI – and Kyle Abbott will probably replace the injured Vernon Philander. The balance of the team will remain off-kilter, regardless. Jonathan Carter, meanwhile, is the man charged with providing runs in the absence of Darren Bravo, who has also been sidelined by a hamstring injury. Behardien versus Carter will effectively bring the Proteas and West Indies’ bench strength (or weakness?) to the fore. Both are in pursuit of consistent first-choice selection, but neither really warrant more than a berth in their respective 15-man squads, if that.
AB de Villiers v Jason Holder
The clash of the captains resumes. De Villiers was particularly fruitful against Holder during January’s second ODI in Johannesburg. The match witnessed the right-hander raucously strike the fastest century in the history of ODI cricket. Almost a third of de Villiers’ 149 runs were swatted off Holder – 45 runs off just nine deliveries, to be exact. There was no hiding for the debuting Windies skipper, whose baptism of fire with the ball was eventually compounded by a four-one series defeat. He has managed to retain the leadership for this tournament, despite a plethora – Gayle, Denesh Ramdin, Darren Sammy – of other options. Another caning at the hands of de Villiers and company, however, might spell the beginning of the end.
Hashim Amla v Andre Russell
Amla and Russell are veritable polar opposites in demeanour and attitude. The South African is humble, softly-spoken – and certainly walks the talk. The West Indian is animated, prone to histrionics – and unable to steer clear of a verbal joust if provoked. Such provocation won’t come from Amla, but an extended period of inadequacy against the in-form batsman should eventually silence the seamer. Russell, on the other hand, would do well to test the right-hander with a string of short deliveries. Amla was found wanting on the pull against India and, on another big field akin to the MCG, a well-positioned bouncer could trump a well-timed hook.
Dale Steyn v Marlon Samuels
De Villiers, by his own admission, remains relatively undecided about where and when to deploy Steyn after his opening burst. ‘It depends on the situation of the game. I just go on my gut feel. I could sit here and say that maybe my gut feel was wrong. Maybe not. That’s just the way I felt. The game, the rhythm of the game, that’s the way I read the situation, and it probably didn’t pay off,’ said the captain after Sunday’s loss to India. This time, after the mandatory powerplay and before the death, the pace ace must be given at least three of the so-called ‘middle overs’ to successfully combat Samuels. The belligerent right-hander was the unsung hero earlier this week, scoring a fine ton but remained firmly rooted in the back seat to Gayle’s dominance. If Wednesday’s double-centurion doesn’t fire 48 hours later, too, Samuels role will become all the more important.