Too Close for Comfort

Sun, Feb 9, '03

by LAWRENCE ROMEO

WI World Cup

Despite some very anxious moments, in a match where first Lance “Zulu” Klusener, aided and abetted by curious decisions by captain Carl Hooper and a very bad miss by Pedro Collins that almost derailed the West Indies hopes, the Caribbean side was able to prevail in a nail biter of a contest that did not have to be as close as it turned out to be.

West Indies fashioned their winning total around the second consecutive ODI hundred by their master batsman Brian Lara. Lara who scored an identical 116 when he last donned the burgundy back in September 2002 versus Kenya. Unlike then, Lara was in much better health and almost as good touch, considering that he had only played a handful of competitive matches since the ICC Mini World Cup.

West Indies won the toss and took first strike in perfect conditions on a pitch that offered some early movement but held no real terror for the openers. Clearly battling early jitters, the openers took three overs to get off the mark, and then to a wide by Makhaya Ntini, even though many more wides could have been called were it not for the very loose interpretation of the rule book by Umpire Venkat.

However it was the other umpire, Darryl Harper, who was to figure prominently in the West Indies misfortunes. In the fourth over, Pollock got one to pass very close to the edge of Hinds' defensive prod, and the tentative appeal by Boucher was upheld. Replays show the bat brushing the pad while the ball passed innocently by.

Brian Lara came to the wicket with the score at four for one. He looked a bit rusty and gave two early half chances off Ntini, one to third man and the other to a diving third slip where Jaques Kallis got his fingertips to the ball. South Africa struck again in the 7th over when Gayle, never having settled, played an extravagant drive to Pollock, and managed to inside edge the ball back on to the stumps.

The resulting perilous position must have forced Lara and to a lesser extent Shiv Chanderpaul to concentrate harder than ever, because Lara was soon into stride. As everyone knows, there is no one quite like Lara when he is on song, and balls that had earlier passed the outside edge, were soon racing off the middle and piercing the gaps in the field like so many guided missiles.

Chanderpaul too was well in his stride by this time and while Lara was finding himself, The Guyanese left-hander was doing enough to keep the scoreboard ticking, and played a few authentic drives and pulls of his own.

It was a day that belonged entirely to Lara though. Even when Chanderpaul departed after a partnership of 102 and having score 34 off 60 balls, Lara found an ally in skipper Carl Hooper and the runs flowed.

Hooper scored a run-a-ball 40 and shared in a partnership of 89 for the fourth wicket. By this time the damage had been repaired, and even after Lara finally got out swinging at Ntini, Sarwan and Powell closed out the West Indian innings at 279 for five with a majestic display of clean hitting.

It was always going to be a tough ask for South Africa, but indifferent bowling management by Hooper almost managed to lose the match for the West Indies. Hooper and Gayle bowled ten overs each, and Drakes who along with Dillon were by far the most effective bowlers managed to peg it back and even was responsible for placing Hooper at a deep wide midon where Hooper gleefully held the clinching catch to finally put the match beyond a shadow of a doubt.

Before this, Klusener was badly missed off Gayle by Pedro Collins, who suffered a brain cramp and stepped back on the boundary rope after taking a well-judged catch.

West Indies went into the match with only three specialist bowlers, and may well continue with this formula if the batting continues to click the way it has. Even though they were aided by amateurish mistakes by Klusener who was ball watching instead of trying to get Boje on strike when he finally holed out to Hooper, Hooper would do well to have let Drakes have one more over and Gayle one less.

That over by Gayle proved expensive and almost lost the game for the West Indies. This was a good victory for the West Indies, and it erased the bad memory of the last over loss to this same SA team in the ICC mini World Cup last year.