x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Pitch unknown factor for South Africa against West Indies in Delhi

The ground has not hosted an international match since a one-day game between India and Sri Lanka in late 2009 was abandoned because of an unplayable pitch.

South Africa’s Hashim Amla in the nets in New Delhi preparing for today’s match against the West Indies.
South Africa’s Hashim Amla in the nets in New Delhi preparing for today’s match against the West Indies.

NEW DELHI // This was the matchup that cricket aficionados would have loved to have seen in the 1970s.

South Africa thumped Australia 4-0 in a Test series in 1970 before the country’s apartheid policies resulted in 21 years of isolation.

By the middle of the decade, when South Africa’s finest were restricted to showcasing their talent on English county grounds, the West Indies had become the game’s dominant force, winning the first two World Cups and overpowering Test opposition for more than 15 years.

This match at the Feroz Shah Kotla in New Delhi will be the fifth that they have contested in World Cups. When they first met in Christchurch 19 years ago, South Africa were an unknown quantity, while West Indies were showing signs that standards had slipped.

It was a low-scoring match, memorable for Adrian Kuiper slog-sweeping Curtly Ambrose for six – needless to say, his stumps were detonated soon after – and Meyrick Pringle taking four for 11 to destroy the West Indian chase.

Four years later, South Africa were near-perfect in winning all five group games. For the quarter-final at the National Stadium in Karachi, they decided to “rest” Allan Donald, the most fearsome bowler in the competition.

Brian Lara made a magnificent 94-ball 111, and Roger Harper and Jimmy Adams then exploited South African tentativeness against spin as the favourites were sent packing.

Seven years later, in the shadow of Table Mountain, Lara was at it again, scoring 116 in the World Cup’s first game. When Donald, the last man, took guard, South Africa needed eight from seven balls. They managed just four.

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South Africa have won 37 of their 50 games against West Indies, including the last 11, but Graeme Smith, in his final tournament as captain of the one-day side, was wary of taking anything for granted. “They have guys who on their day can really punish you and take the game away from you,” he said. “That’s why in cup competitions, they are a very dangerous opponent to come up against.”

Much of the pre-match talk has been about the pitch. After an India-Sri Lanka game was abandoned in December 2009, the International Cricket Council banned the venue, and the authorities are hoping remedial work over the past year will mean no such embarrassment today.

There is a tinge of green on the surface, which probably means that Pakistan-born Imran Tahir will have to wait a little longer for his first South African cap.

Johan Botha and Robin Peterson should play, with Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Lonwabo Tsotsobe making up the pace attack.

The speedy Kemar Roach will share the new ball with Ravi Rampaul, and West Indies will also look to Sulieman Benn’s left-arm spinto cause problems. Their strength, though, is the batting, with Chris Gayle, Ramnaresh Sarwan and Kieron Pollard all capable of game-changing contributions. There is also Darren Bravo, regarded by many Caribbean observers as the true inheritor of the Lara legacy.

History and legacy were on Darren Sammy’s mind when he spoke on the eve of the game.

“I have received messages from Sir Viv [Richards] and I’ve spoken to Clive Lloyd,” he said. “Quite a few past players have been in contact with me or players in the team.

“We just want to see that fight and that passion that we had back in the 1970s and 1980s. I think the fans at home just want to see the West Indies go out there and play with pride and passion.”

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