West Indies ... beware of South Africa

by Tony Cozier
Stabroek News
July 8, 1998

OUR sporting consciousness this past month has been saturated by football's fascinating World Cup.

Our TV screens have been filled for hour after hour with fast-moving images from France. The airwaves have overflowed with discussions on every play and every player. Our newspapers have given us more words to digest on football than are to be found in a James Mitchener novel.

As a result, that other game played with a round ball and 11 men a side which, with due respects to the Reggae Boyz, holds somewhat more significance for West Indians, has been ushered back stage. We simply haven't had the time or the inclination for cricket.

The occasional 30-second clip from CNN is all we have seen on our screens and the news agency reports all we have read of South Africa's current Test series in England. Even Brian Lara's tortured time with Warwickshire has attracted little attention, far less the performances of Nixon McLean and Franklyn Rose, the two fast bowlers in their first seasons of county cricket.

Perhaps after Sunday's World Cup final in Paris, when the Brazilians again celebrate another triumph, the names dominating our media and most regularly heard on the call-in programmes will gradually change.

Ronaldo, Berkamp, Klinsman and Kluivert will be transformed into Donald, Pollock, Kirsten, Kallis and the other South African cricketers who are currently so demolishing England and who, come November, are the West Indies' next opponents.

It is a series of five Tests - and seven one-day internationals - that will be the first genuine test of the team under Lara's captaincy.

While the double over England last season - 3-1 in the Tests and 4-1 in the one-day matches - turned the despair that followed the thrashing in Pakistan only a few months earlier into new hope in Lara's first series at the helm, the current Tests in England have placed it in proper perspective.

The plain and undeniable truth is that England remain weak and woefully lacking self-confidence. It is just as obvious that South Africa are strong, resilient and fiercely competitive.

It is now six years since the South Africans' full and formal entry into international cricket with their stunning defeat by the West Indies at boycotted Kensington Oval. In that time, they have crammed is as much as they could to gain the experience needed to count themselves among the best in the world.

They can now do so without serious argument for only Australia have got the better of them in the past three years. The latest Wisden Test ratings places them equal second, with the West Indies; Rashid Latif, who led Pakistan's tour of South Africa earlier this year, proclaims them as "the best in the world in one-day cricket".

Yet that 1992 Test is the only one they have had against the West Indies so the forthcoming encounter is critical to both sides.

South Africa's increasing success has been based on their all-round ability, their exceptional fielding, their mental toughness and the passionate need to prove themselves to the rest of the world. It also helps, as West Indians well appreciate, that they should have a genuinely fast, high quality fast bowler in Alan Donald, with a worthy partner in the improving Shaun Pollock.

Like all the best teams, they do not depend simply on a few star players and they do not buckle easily under pressure. There is no Tendulkar, Lara, deSilva or Waugh in their order but they bat all the way down. And there are batsmen who can bowl and bowlers who can bat.

Young Pollock, of that famous cricketing breed, is not only a class act in support of Donald but a batsman at No. 7 good enough to prompt coach Bob Woolmer, even if with some hyperbole, to describe him as "one of the finest all-rounders since Garry Sobers".

Lance Klusener is a quick outswing bowler whose batting place in the Test side is No.9 but, as a hard-hitting left-hander, a one-day century-maker going in at the top of the order. Jacques Kallis, who hit a hundred at No.3 in the current lop-sided Test at Old Trafford, chipped in to take four second innings wickets with his lively swing bowling in the Lord's victory. Hansie Cronje is not only the captain and most reliable batsman but also a useful medium-pacer in the style of Greg Chappell.

Added to all this is the variety provided by the unorthodox left-arm spinner Paul Adams, still only 22 and, from reliable reports, getting better by the match, and the ground fielding of the phenomenal Jonty Rhodes and others which so stifles free-scoring that it not only saves dozens of runs during a match but prompts indiscretions by impatient batsmen.

Fortunately, West Indies coach Malcolm Marshall knows the South Africans inside out for he played with Natal for several seasons and is credited by several players themselves, most prominently Shaun Pollock, with their development. No doubt, in between his duties as Hampshire coach, he is closely following the series in England and making notes. Once France '98 is through, he can do so without any distractions.

He, above all others, will appreciate how tough the South African assignment will be. If there was ever any doubt, the past couple of months in England have restated the point.