Centurion: South Africa will go into next month's World Cup comfortable with their status as one of the favourites to lift the trophy. The West Indies, on the other hand, are banking on reaching the knockout phase and then producing their best form. There was a considerable gulf in performance between the two sides in a series which South Africa wrapped up 4-1 with a 131-run win in Centurion on Wednesday, the last competitive match for both teams before the global showpiece.
But the sole win by the West Indies, in the fourth match in Port Elizabeth, showed that in a one-off match past form is not necessarily a decisive factor. Former West Indian captain Darren Sammy summed it up. "I don't think I have had a World Cup where South Africa have not been favourites and this time it's no different. But in a World Cup if you play three good matches in the first round, you are into the knockout stages and with that, cricket is played on the day and anything is possible? South African coach Russell Domingo agreed that the final stages of a tournament lasting more than six weeks were what really mattered.
"It's a long tournament and you want to play really when it counts at the back end." -- High on confidence -- But Domingo said South Africa would go to Australia and New Zealand high on confidence and would not be concerned if they were labelled as one of the favourites. "All sides would rather go in as one of the favourite sides rather than being rank outsiders because it means they have been playing consistent cricket," he said. Looking at some of the other leading sides, Domingo said: "I think we are more confident than India and Sri Lanka at the moment.
Sri Lanka are down in a series in New Zealand and I don't think India have won a game in Australia. "New Zealand and Australia's confidence levels are obviously up because they are playing in conditions they are used to but (earlier this season) we beat New Zealand in New Zealand and we ran Australia close in Australia. There's not too much to choose between the sides." South Africa produced some powerful batting performances during the series.
Hashim Amla and Rilee Rossouw both hit two centuries and shared two record stands, while captain AB de Villiers hit a 31-ball century in Johannesburg -- the fastest in one-day international history. The West Indies managed just six half-centuries in five matches while their bowlers took a pounding. But Jason Holder, who had a gruelling baptism as captain during the series, believed his side were still in with a chance in the World Cup, where they will be bolstered by the addition of solid batsman Darren Bravo and strike bowler Kemar Roach. "I've learnt a lot," said Holder.
"Our batsmen need to take responsibility and they need to bat till the end. A few guys will be coming in for the World Cup and I?m very confident of our chances. A lot of guys came here for the first time and it was a good learning tour." South Africa, too, have areas in which they need to improve as they confront a dismal record of never having won a World Cup knockout game. On the only occasion the bowlers were under pressure defending a total in the closing overs, the team's second string attack could not prevent the West Indies from stealing a win in Port Elizabeth.
Domingo acknowledged: "It's common knowledge that over a period of time we have been working on our back-end bowling, which is why I have brought (former death bowling specialist) Charl Langeveldt into the mix to try and save us ten runs at the back end of an innings. It's such a difficult thing now with only four fielders out of the ring and it is something many teams are struggling to deal with."
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