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South Africa v West Indies ICC Championship preview

South Africa’s clash with the West Indies in Cardiff tomorrow has become a straight fight for a place in the ICC Championship semi-finals after the whole dynamic of Group B altered earlier in the week.

First of all South Africa, reckoned to be down and out after their first game defeat to India, bounced back to beat Pakistan on Monday. Then the much-fancied Windies, on the crest of a wave after beating Pakistan in their first match, came crashing onto the rocks when India rolled them over on Tuesday.

Now the momentum is definitely with the Proteas and they are firm 8/13 favourites with Coral to get through to the last four. Beating Pakistan was crucial, of course, but there was more good news for the South Africans as their leading bowler, Dale Steyn, out of the opener with a side strain, warmed up in the Edgbaston nets without any discomfort.

The West Indies, on the other hand, were on the receiving end of a batting master-class from the Indian top order and suddenly they aren’t the flavour of the month with TV pundits any more. The bookies are starting to write them off, too; Coral now go 10/1 the West Indies winning the tournament – out from a recent 9/2 – while South Africa have made a big move in the opposite direction and are now 4/1 third favourites behind India (15/8) and England (7/2).

The form lines of this group do point to South Africa getting through. They made much more of a game of it with India and also made shorter work of Pakistan than the Windies did.

And in retrospect, we all perhaps overestimated South African’s personnel problems. Sure, any team would miss players of the calibre of Graeme Smith, Jacques Kallis, Morne Morkel and Steyn (temporairily), but others have stepped up to the plate, including bowlers Chris Morris and Ryan McLaren, who both shone against Pakistan.

Steyn is the main man, however, and Coral make him 9/4 favourite to be South Africa’s leading wicket-taker, while Hashim Amla, man of the match against Pakistan with a typically classy 81, heads the batting market at 11/4.

With the destructive Chris Gayle and several other potential match-winners in the side, the Windies can never be written off with any confidence and it would be just like them to bounce right back again here. But the force is now with South Africa, especially if Steyn is available.

Written by Jon Freeman