South Africa gets its swagger back

NORMAN DA COSTA, Special to the Sun Media

, Last Updated: 3:25 PM ET

TORONTO - Go on and loosen that noose around South Africa’s neck.

The Proteas arrived at the previous four tournaments with a swagger as one of the three favourites but on each occasion they limped home, choked by the pressure under the searing glare of the World Cup.

This time they promise there will be no repeat of previous letdowns. Star batsman Jacques Kallis said South Africa was “better prepared than ever before” and maybe we should believe him as it barely broke a sweat in its emphatic seven-wicket thrashing of the West Indies in the Group B opener for both teams in Delhi.

West Indies was all out for a paltry 222 in 47.3 overs and South Africa reached 223 for three in 42.5 overs.

From the time skipper Graeme Smith won the toss there was a feeling that his team was determined to not only roll over the opposition but also silence their long, make it a very long, list of critics.

The reason South Africa will now have to be taken seriously is that it may have found the missing link in its bowling armoury. With an arsenal of world-class quickies, South Africa lacked a superlative spinner, especially on the flat tracks in the sub-continent. It appears Pakistani-born Imran Tahir will provide that elusive piece in the puzzle.

The 31-year-old leg-spinner Tahir led the West Indies batsmen on a merry dance with his highly-deceiving googly to take four wickets for 41 in his 10 overs.

Tahir was drafted into the South African squad as soon as he became eligible to represent the country on Jan. 1 2011, and he was kept “hidden” from international exposure, so that he could catch batsmen unawares when unleashed.

Tahir’s haul was the third best by a bowler making his World Cup debut. It is interesting to note that the best showing still belongs to Canada’s very own Austin Codrington who captured five for 27 against Kenya in 2003.

Tahir should probably have earned the man-of-the-match award with the motorcycle that goes with it, but he lost out on that honour to teammate AB de Villiers who scored a truly magnificent 107 not out off 105 balls that included eight fours and two glorious sixes.

It is one of the finest knocks I have seen. Fast hands, quick feet, controlled power and his cover drives were a thing of beauty.

“It’s a batsman’s game,’’ De Villiers said of his award, tongue-in-cheek. “But it’s amazing to see how composed and calm he (Tahir) was for a debutant in a World Cup game and we’ll definitely be sharing a drink. He can have half the award!”

This was the second brilliant knock of the day as West Indies’ Darren Bravo showed he is ready to fill the hole left after the retirement of the iconic Brian Lara. The stylish left-hander resembles Lara in every way.

He scored a quick and brilliant 73 off 82 balls with a six and eight fours, while his older half-brother Dwayne made 40. Other notable scores came from Devon Smith (36) and Shivnarine Chanderpaul (31). But the big batting guns, Chris Gayle, Keiron Pollard and Ramnaresh Sarwan managed a meagre four runs in total.

Another big worry for the West Indies is that fine all-rounder Dwayne Bravo, who twisted his knee and had to be carried off starting his third over, could miss the rest of the competition.


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