It’s fair to say that South Africa’s meeting with the West Indies at the 2015 Cricket World Cup on Friday now has a very different complexion than just seven days ago. Back then it appeared the contest at the Sydney Cricket Ground would present little obstacle to the South Africans march toward the competition’s latter stages. Now it represents a real opportunity for the West Indies to show that could yet be a real factor in Australia and New Zealand.
AB de Villiers’ side had come into the World Cup as one of the leading favorites to lift the trophy, and had warmed up for the competition by making light work of the Caribbean islanders in a 4-1 series win in January. The West Indies, meanwhile, had begun the event under a familiar cloud of unrest, with much talk surrounding the omission of two leading players. A disastrous opening defeat to Associate nation Ireland suggested that the World Cup would represent the latest nadir for a side that has suffered a dramatic fall from their heyday at the top of world cricket in the 1970s and 1980s. Yet comfortable wins over Pakistan and Zimbabwe, the latter courtesy of a first ever double century in a World Cup from Chris Gayle, has significantly altered the mood.
“It's a different ballgame,” West Indies captain Jason Holder said on Thursday, reports Reuters. “We're into the World Cup. Now that South Africa [tour]'s gone, we have two wins, so we have some momentum going into this game. So I think both teams are basically on a level playground.”
At the same time as the West Indies have found form, South Africa suffered a chastening 130-run defeat to holders India. Having never won the World Cup and with a series of dramatic failures in their history, questions are once again being asked about whether South Africa have the mental resolve to back up their undoubted talent.
As well as trying to rebound from that loss, De Villiers also has to deal with the threat of a one-match ban hanging over his head. The captain was fined for South Africa’s slow over rate against India, and another infraction during the World Cup would lead to the Proteas having to miss the services of the man ranked as the leading ODI batsman in the world for one game.
“I think all the captains are under pressure in this tournament,” De Villiers said. “They're very strict with that in this particular tournament you get one warning and then you're suspended. They're a little bit more lenient with normal cricket series around the world, which is understandable, I mean this tournament is under the spotlights, and things need to happen in the right way. So I'm under pressure. Yes, we know that. We've had a good discussion about it. There is nothing else you can do about it except just get it right.”
Adding to South Africa’s problems is a hamstring injury that will rule out seam bowler Vernon Philander. The West Indies also have an injury concern, with Gayle suffering from a back problem. But, fresh from his 215, the 35-year-old is expected to be named in the lineup, much to the joy of his captain.
“It was a really good feeling not only to see him get a hundred, but going to get a double hundred,” Holder said. “He's broken records, and he's set the path in world cricket in a sense. I think it's important that his success is crucial to our overall success. We love him, and he's a huge member [of the side] for us. It's good to have him.”
Match time: Friday, 2:30 p.m. local time. Thursday, 10:30 p.m. EST.
TV channel: DISH Network, Mediacom and Time Warner Cable subscribers can watch the match via pay per view. More info here.