On Thursday, South Africa would be more wary of West Indies and their skipper Brian Lara than they normally are. The Caribbeans, Lara in particular, have shown a fondness for South Africa in big games (they pounded South Africa twice in World Cups and once in the Champions Trophy). And the semi-finals of the Champions Trophy is almost as big as it gets.
“We know they have beaten us in the World Cup and the last Champions Trophy,” the South African captain, Graeme Smith said. “They've got some top class players and if they play to their potential, they can beat any team, like they showed in the game against Australia earlier in the tournament.”
But credit is all that South Africa are prepared to concede to West Indies. Beyond that they believe they are as prepared as they could have been for the encounter.
Notwithstanding Smith's assertion, it's impossible to gloss over the failure of their top-order. It's yet to make their presence felt and one would not be off the mark in suggesting that they have reached this far purely on the basis of their bowling strength.
But Smith doesn't seem to be overtly concerned. “The top-order failure has been a common phenomenon in the tournament,” he said. “But yes, it's time all of us deliver. It's a semifinal, and there's pressure. If we can get off to a good start, it will be a huge bonus.”
It would, however, not be easy, if Smith's own reading of the wicket is anything to go by. “The wicket looks dry and has been a bit two-paced, up and down,” he said. “I guess the harder ball will be difficult to bat against.” That is certainly not good news for their top-order.
West Indies, on the other hand, are amongst the few teams which have managed to dish out an all-round performance. Except for one game against Sri Lanka, their batsmen as well as their bowlers have been fairly successful. Hence, they have lesser issues to address than South Africa, despite their loss to England in their last game.
“We are more than happy with the way things have panned out for us,” said Lara. “We have our gameplan in place and I hope we pull it off.”
But even as the West Indies present a more solid look with both batsmen and bowlers looking good, Smith is eyeing their unpredictability as a chink in their armour. Admitting that West Indies have match winners in Chris Gayle, Ramnaresh Sarwan and Lara, Smith feels the team is unpredictable, which sometimes works for them and sometimes doesn't.
“Their volatile nature can count against them,” Smith said. “If we can put pressure on their key players and get stuck into their middle order as quickly as possible, we will go a long way in curbing their strengths.”
‘Teams have mixed relationship’
Brian Lara dismissed rumours that West Indies and South Africa had a testy relationship. Graeme Smith, on the other hand, was more candid. “Certain guys get on well with each other but otherwise we don't know each other that well,” Smith said. “West Indies are quite a young side in a lot of ways.”