SA hope batsmen will finally shine

South Africa go into the ICC Champions Trophy semifinal on Thursday hoping their batting line-up will back up their fast bowlers against a resurgent West Indies.

Fast bowlers spared South African blushes in the last two games against Sri Lanka and Pakistan, with Makhaya Ntini and Shaun Pollock playing key roles in their team’s wins.

South Africa were defending a modest total of 219 against Sri Lanka at Ahmedabad when Pollock grabbed two big wickets in an inspired 10-over spell to put his team on course for victory.

Ntini did better than his teammate in the next match, wrecking Pakistan with a five-wicket burst at Mohali to help his team advance to the semifinals with a convincing 124-run win.

He is his team’s leading wicket-taker in the ongoing tournament with seven victims, followed by Pollock with five. The pair have been well supported by Jacques Kallis, Andre Nel and Charl Langeveldt in an all-pace attack.

South Africa’s batting has yet to click, although they have so far not played in ideal conditions. Mark Boucher, Justin Kemp and AB de Villiers are the only batsmen to defy odds with a half-century apiece.

They managed just 105 against New Zealand on a dubious Mumbai pitch, 219 against Sri Lanka and 213 against Pakistan on seamer-friendly pitches at Ahmedabad and Mohali.

Their main batsmen—skipper Graeme Smith, Herschelle Gibbs, Kallis and Boeta Dippenaar—are all averaging below 25 after three matches.

South Africa coach Mickey Arthur said on Tuesday he was confident his batsmen would deliver against the West Indies.

“I feel sorry for top-order batsmen of all sides.
I think the wickets are conducive to bowlers. But I am sure we will get it right come the semifinal. I have full confidence in the guys that they can do the job for us,” he said.

“Like most teams, we came here with a preconceived plan and perception of the wickets. It certainly took away our first game at Mumbai and watching other games, we realised it was not the normal sub-continental conditions.”

Arthur said it was necessary to bat better against the new ball and then go for runs in the middle overs.

“We came with a strategy of trying to attack the middle overs, but based on the pitches that we have had, we have not been able to do that because we lost too many wickets up front,” he said.

“So if we keep wickets in hand in this game, it will allow our batsmen down the order to do that and I do believe we are getting strong as the competition goes on. If we get our things right, we believe we can beat any side.”

The West Indies have been on a roll during Brian Lara’s third stint as captain, having beaten India in May, qualified for a triangular series final at Kuala Lumpur last month and won four of their six matches in this tournament.

They may have lost 5-0 in their last one-day series against South Africa at home in 2005, but are expected to put up a stiff resistance this time.

The West Indies’ two defeats in this tournament came in “dead” matches, against Sri Lanka when they had made it to the main draw, and then against England when they had qualified for the semifinals.

The West Indies batting was the talking point, with left-hand opener Chris Gayle showing the way with two centuries in six matches. He is also the tournament’s second-highest scorer with 304 runs.

They are the only side with two century makers in their ranks, Dwayne Bravo being the other. Lara, Runako Morton, Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Ramnaresh Sarwan have one half-century to their credit.—Sapa-AFP

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