Smith gives new spin to SA approach

There is a new spin to the South African campaign in the ICC Cricket World Cup 2011. In winning its opening group B game against the West Indies by seven wickets with 7.1 overs to spare on Thursday, the message from the team was clear: It is ready to embrace innovation while it pursues clinical victories.

South Africa picked three spinners for its opening game against the West Indies at the Ferozshah Kotla ground and picked up rewards for its interesting tactics – six wickets to spinners, and a comfortable seven-wicket victory powered by AB de Villiers’ unbeaten century.

The Lahore-born leg-spinner Imran Tahir, who has played for a number of squads before in Pakistan, England and South Africa, claimed four wickets on his ODI debut to add to off-spinner Johan Botha’s efforts of picking up the first two wickets on either side of 111-run stand between Devon Smith and Darren Bravo.

South African skipper Graeme Smith, who admitted he would rather have not won the toss, was left pleased with each of his decisions in the first half of the game. Yet, chasing a modest target of 223, South Africa was off a stuttering start.

Hashim Amla fell to a stupendous leg-side catch by wicket-keeper Devon Thomas off Kemar Roach and Jacques Kallis edged left-arm spinner Suleiman Benn to slip while Smith himselfanlooked uncomfortable against the spin-pace combination. However, de Villiers (107, 105 balls, eight fours, two sixes) assumed control and shepherded South Africa’s chase.

De Villiers, who has played a number of IPL games on slow tracks at the Kotla, enjoyed the chance to make his 10th ODI hundred and steal the thunder from his team’s spin bowlers. More importantly, he also helped his captain spend enough time in the middle to be able to share a 119-run stand for the third wicket. Smith was workmanlike in making 45 (78 balls, two fours).

Earlier, Botha responded to the challenge of bowling with the new ball by luring Chris Gayle to edge a simple catch to slip with his third delivery. And, when the West Indies looked on course to a competitive score, he earned a leg before verdict with a delivery that held it line, beat Darren Bravo’s defensive push – and even the UDRS appeal.

The left-handed Darren Bravo’s enterprise was easily the brightest spot in the West Indies innings, his knock of 73 (84 balls, eight fours, one six) and his partnership of 111 runs for the second wicket with Devon Smith (36, 57 balls, three fours) being the fulcrum on which the West Indies raised its fans hopes of posting a challenging score.

However, the West Indies innings went on a terminal decline from 113 for one, even if Dwayne Bravo (40, 37 balls, one four, three sixes) brightened up proceedings before being run out in a mix-up with Shivnarine Chanderpaul, his partner in the 58-run fifth wicket stand. And Tahir could claim a big hand in engineering that slide.

Tahir had been wisely taken off the firing line after he was hit for a massive six over long-on by Dwayne Bravo but brought back after his fall. He foxed Devon Smith into hitting a return catch and trapped Ramnaresh Sarwan in front in successive overs. Devon Thomas and Chanderpaul’s scalps made him the toast of the side as he showcased a good repertoire.

Before the game, it would have been quite unthinkable that South Africa’s Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel, recognised as being among the world’s best new-ball bowling partnerships, would not have got to complete their quota of 10 overs each.

Fans of West Indies cricket were left with glimpses of what could have been as they immersed themselves in nostalgia. On the contrary, South African fans were delighted that the team’s readiness to embrace horses-for-courses policy had borne fruit – and with the message that emanated from its victory.

This report was written for The Telegraph, Kolkata