World T20: West Indies make a meal of South Africa's small target before reaching semis; do England a favour
The West Indies were in a hospitable mood. Yet their natural generosity of spirit nearly went too far against South Africa in Nagpur during their third World T20 match on Friday.
You get a welcome reception in the West Indies.
As they step off the plane, tourists to the Caribbean’s idyllic islands are hit by the warm air, swiftly followed by a beatific breeze.
The warmth of the weather is matched by the warmth of the people.
Nothing is too much trouble, and visitors are made to feel as though they have found a second home.
And the West Indies are most supporters’ second team too. A packed house full of Indian fans and almost everyone everywhere else were rooting for them in this match — except their opponents, South Africa. And no one was keener for the Windies to do well than England, who were relying on them to do them a favour in their hopes of qualifying for the semi-finals.
The West Indies were in a hospitable mood.
Yet their natural generosity of spirit nearly went too far against South Africa in Nagpur during their third World T20 match on Friday.
Until they snatched it back, the Caribbeans appeared to have handed over the game to their South African opponents with all the conviviality of a cocktail waiter passing over a pina colada.
Darren Sammy’s men have led the way in Group 1. They ruthlessly dispatched both England and Sri Lanka and began this game in an even more efficient fashion.
In the first half of the Proteas’s innings, West Indies were the sharpest and most alert that they have been in the tournament thus far — and fielded in a sprightly fashion that belied their status as the senior citizens of the competition.
At the outset, Andre Russell took the first positive steps. The Jamaican had been seen in a previous game with mismatched boots of starkly different shades. But it was the South Africans who began off-colour and were anything but sure-footed.
In the first three overs, Russell affected a smart (and crucial) run-out of Hashim Amla; picked up the wicket of Faf du Plessis; and caught Rilee Roussow — which he had to steal from under the nose of the equally eager Sulieman Benn. The over before, Benn had set the tone with a super diving catch of the South African skipper at mid-off; and followed it up with a splendid, sprawling stop.
In the first half of the South African innings, West Indies skipper Sammy switched his bowlers intelligently, and even pulled a rare old rabbit out of the hat with the introduction of Chris Gayle to the bowling attack.
The crowd for Windies’ last match versus Sri Lanka in Bengaluru had been heart-broken not to see their hero bat; and eager as Gayle was to please, fourth official Ian Gould had persuaded him with the help of a jokey arm-lock, not to enter the fray.
This time the fans had only to wait until the third over to see Gayle at the heart of the action — and umpire Gould, now officiating out in the middle, didn’t dare try and wrestle Gayle away again.
But if onlookers thought this was the first of the night’s generous Caribbean offerings, they were to be mistaken — at least for now.
Gayle struck almost immediately, though it was a very poor shot from Roussow that lobbed up to Russell at point. But Gayle’s second wicket — ripping past David Miller with an artful off-break — was a masterpiece. Gayle reaction was not to show even a flicker of surprise at his success — he stood impassively like a perfect statue to be admired.
Some observers reckoned Miller merely missed a straight one — but if you looked at where wicket-keeper Denesh Ramdin’s hands were, above leg-stump, then you realise that at the very least it was not just the batsman who was undone by the flight and turn. But what Miller really got wrong was not the line, but the length — he should have been forward.
Former England spinner Ashley Giles used to be amusingly referred to as the ‘King of Spain’. On the evidence of this dismissal, Gayle can add the kingdom of Espana to his claims as ‘Boss’ of the World and the Universe.
By the 10-over mark of South Africa’s innings, the West Indies had taken a ‘Ming the Merciless’ like grip on proceedings.
But then West Indies seemed to relax. Perhaps it was too easy? Perhaps they remembered what generous, hospitable, kind-hearted folks they are? They allowed South Africa to claw back into the game and in particular let a nice, fresh-faced young fellow have a bit of a bat.
He didn’t light up the night sky but Quinton de Kock gave his side something to play with. It didn’t seem to be enough to trouble the West Indies, but it might prologue the fun and entertainment — and give the crowd a chance to see Gayle bat this time. At least that was the plan.
The fun was short-lived.
The exciting Kagiso Rabada moved the ball away — as much at pace as Gayle had done earlier with his perfect off-break — to send the left-hander back after just two balls.
But a target of barely above six-an-over should still not really have stretched a team that are remembering that they weren’t once just the West Indies, but the MIGHTY West Indies.
And yet they forgot to step determinedly through the exit marked ‘victory’, and at regular intervals made generous gestures to South Africa — politely saying ‘after you’.
They left the door ajar — and it was at its widest when Darren Sammy presented Imran Tahir with a broad gateway to float a googly through. That first-baller is the only delivery Sammy has either batted or bowled in the tournament.
All the while, Marlon Samuels was playing an ugly, tortured innings that threatened to either take his side to victory — or be just slow enough to be put sufficient pressure on his teammates for them to panic and implode.
Samuels probably just about ended up in credit, and did enough to receive the benefit of the doubt. But the view remains that he is a potential liability in the middle order. When you have Bravo, Russell, Sammy and Brathwaite in the dug-out, it’s frustrating to watch Marlon fiddling about.
In a low-scoring match that West Indies appeared to be winningly comfortably for most of the evening, they somehow got themselves into a position where they needed 20 runs off the last two overs. Samuels squeezed 11 off the 19th over, mostly through third man but then perished.
In the last over, Carlos Brathwaite, who’d swished and missed at most of his previous deliveries, finally connected and thumped a huge, murderous six over long on off Rabada.
Rabada had had the first word over Gayle at the start of the innings — but Brathwaite had the last.
Just in time, the West Indies remembered that they are here to win — not to be polite.
And I think they will.
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