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Smith powers SA to victory
05 Jan 2008
By: Richard Dickinson

South Africa, in the end, cantered to an easy victory over West Indies, but there was a stage during the day where the match appeared to be swinging towards their opponents. The tourists had begun the day 18 ahead with 6 wickets standing, and Chris Gayle's injury worries were doubled early on as he was forced to retire hurt, but the irrepressible Shivnarine Chanderpaul marshalled a superb effort to set a far-from-straightforward target of 185. Graeme Smith's 79-ball 85, however, ensured his side raced to victory and squared the series.

The day had not begun well for Gayle - already nursing a hamstring injury, he received a nasty lifting delivery from Andre Nel, one which caught him on the point of the thumb of his bottom hand. X-rays later revealed a break, and Gayle was not expected to resume his innings. This effectively meant his side were 97 for 5, just 19 ahead. Chanderpaul and Bravo stayed assertively for a time, but Nel and Makhaya Ntini plugged away, and the first expansive stroke was not played until Paul Harris was introduced, in the 10th over of the day. Chanderpaul promptly hit Nel for another boundary (his previous 20 overs had cost just 18) but Bravo fell later in the over, another snorting lifter from Nel catching the gloves - fortunately doing no damage this time - as he attempted to leave and flying straight to Smith at first-slip, who took an easy catch.

Rawl Lewis managed to avoid a king-pair, but also somehow managed to play-and-miss four times out of five in Nel's next over, though with the other delivery he got off his pair too. It was too good to last, however, and he pushed to Hashim Amla at short-leg in Harris' next. At this stage, West Indies effectively 55 for 7, a finish early in the second session would have been envisaged. And it might have happened had Smith not inexplicably, uncharacteristically, dropped Jerome Taylor off the luckless Ntini in the next over again. The delivery was an excellent one and the chance as easy as any slip catch that can be hoped for.

The miss proved highly costly, as not only did Chanderpaul and Taylor stay to lunch, but the wind was taken out of the bowlers' sails. The pair ended-up adding 30, before Dale Steyn, his own hamstring still in a less than perfect state, benefited when Taylor failed to get his bat out of the way of an attempted leave, edging to Jacques Kallis at second-slip, who this time made no mistake. The new ball was soon available, and was taken immediately, though somewhat surprisingly by the injured Steyn and Kallis. Steyn justified his captain's faith, however, as he produced another fine delivery that clipped Powell's edge and gave Smith the chance to atone for his earlier error, which the captain accepted.

Fidel Edwards, in possibly a worse state of fitness than Steyn, Gayle, Taylor or Neil McKenzie, continued the trend of the walking wounded performers. He slapped 21 from 35, rarely looking particularly convincing but launching one astonishing six over long-on from Kallis. Nel deservedly picked-up his wicket when Harris appeared to take a sensational catch at mid-off, running and diving to his left. Replays, however, cast some doubt on whether Harris had grounded the ball, in a similar manner to Chamara Silva's flick-up from Kevin Pietersen in the Sri Lanka - England series last month.

Either way, the result was that Gayle resumed, somewhat unexpectedly. Nel's thrift was reversed to some extent, as the bowler conceded 24 from 2 overs, then 9 from his next but one. Chanderpaul finally joined-in, having brought-up yet another half-century (only once in his last 10 Test innings has he failed to reach the mark) from 142 deliveries. His best shot - probably the best shot of the day - was a swatted sweep for six off Harris, and when Gayle blasted consecutive maximums off Steyn the following over, the bowlers, so in control for pretty much the entire match, were suddenly looking ragged.

Fortunately for them, Gayle finally made a terminal error, attempting another massive hit over the top from Steyn and only finding Harris at long-on. Tea was taken at the fall of the wicket, having been delayed waiting for it, and the home side knew the equation for certain, 185 from four sessions.

It turned-out they needed just the single one, as the West Indian seamers, perhaps understandably after their marathon efforts and injury-battling stints in the first-innings, pitched too short, far too often. McKenzie's injury meant AB de Villiers finally got the promotion back to his favoured opening slot which he should have been given in the first-innings, and he and Smith raised memories of their barnstorming efforts in the Caribbean in 2005, pulling, cutting and driving with menace. Crucially, though, Smith, after reaching 18, was put down by Marlon Samuels at backward-point off Taylor, as he drove in the air. His partner was not able to continue with his start, as he was snapped-up low down by substitute Darren Sammy at mid-wicket as he miscued another attempted pull.

Hashim Amla, however, proved the perfect foil to Smith, and after an opening stand of 57 (from 9 overs) they put the game beyond all doubt. Smith slammed 11 boundaries in his 85, Amla 6 - among dot-balls and deftly deflected singles - in his 60-ball 37. By the time their wickets fell, at 140 and 152, the game was all but over. Rawl Lewis, ineffective once again, will nonetheless treasure the fact that he doubled his wicket tally when Gayle, broken finger, dickey hamstring and all, pulled-off superlative slip catches to dismiss both. It was too late to matter, though, and Kallis - unusually aggressive - and Ashwell Prince closed the game out. Prince will have been disappointed he could not have added 2 of his 12* to his first-innings score, but the disappointment was assuaged by the man-of-the-match award for his crucial 98 which gave his side a hefty lead.

The teams now head to Kingsmead, Durban for a decider.

West Indies 243
Chris Gayle 46, Marlon Samuels 51, Shivnarine Chanderpaul 65*
Dale Steyn 4-60, Andre Nel 3-61

South Africa 321
Ashwell Prince 98, Mark Boucher 59
Dwayne Bravo 4-82

West Indies 262
Shivnarine Chanderpaul 70*

South Africa 186 for 3
Graeme Smith 85

South Africa won by 7 wickets

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