First Test

South Africa v West Indies 2007-08

At Port Elizabeth, December 26, 27, 28, 29, 2007. West Indies won by 128 runs. Toss: South Africa.

Marlon Samuels hammers the ball down the ground, South Africa v West Indies, 1st Test, Port Elizabeth, 3rd day, December 28, 2007
Marlon Samuels made important contributions in both innings to set up West Indies' upset win © AFP

After bullying the New Zealanders into meek submission just a few weeks previously (see Wisden 2008), South Africa's bowlers adopted a similar bouncer-bouncer-yorker approach on the first morning of this match, and promptly had the sand kicked back in their faces, with interest. West Indies eventually recorded their first Test win in South Africa, their first anywhere for 31 months, and their first overseas outside Zimbabwe and Bangladesh since beating England at Edgbaston in June 2000.

It was the best possible start to Gayle's Test captaincy career. He began by lashing 66 from 49 balls after Smith, in his 50th Test as South African captain (he also led the World XI in Sydney in 2005-06), had decided to bowl first. Before the South Africans could even think of changing their game plan an opening stand of 98 was on the board in just 17 overs, helped by Steyn bowling badly. The pace slowed dramatically in the afternoon, when Chanderpaul's ugly but effective obduracy rubbed off on the normally flashy Samuels. Chanderpaul reached 50 for the seventh innings running, equalling the Test record shared by Everton Weekes and Andy Flower. He and Samuels put on 111 in almost 40 overs, leaving the South African attack with the exasperated air of a dog owner whose animal stubbornly refused to sit despite much shouting.

Samuels clearly enjoyed playing this new role, but was denied a deserved century when Steyn finally fixed his radar and had him caught at second slip. Chanderpaul, however, was not to be denied his 17th Test hundred, its worth to his team in inverse proportion to the entertainment it provided. He batted on, and on, for over six and a half hours. Few other centuries, if any, could have been compiled with so few shots - not to mention a technique normally used by a pensioner pushing a walking frame. South Africa were quickly in trouble when they finally had a chance to bat after tea on the second day and, ably though Powell and Taylor bowled to claim the first six wickets, some dreadful strokeplay might have been a direct result of being driven temporarily crazy by watching Chanderpaul bat for so long. Bravo mopped up a ragged tail with bowling that was both accurate and inventive, but Gayle sensibly opted not to enforce the follow-on despite a lead of 213.

Ganga and Samuels all but made the game safe with a composed stand of 65, which took the lead to 335, but Steyn and the slow left-armer Harris started a mid-innings collapse and, by the end of the third day, the South Africans were talking bullishly about chasing 360-odd to win on a still-perfect batting surface. But Taylor belted a quick 22 on the fourth morning, and the final target of 389 looked far distant when South Africa wobbled to 45 for three at lunch. Edwards took two wickets with his rapid slingers, including a snorting bouncer to an airborne Smith, which he fended to short leg. Gibbs fell to Powell for a duck for the second time in the match.

Kallis looked imperious, and as certain to reach a century as any batsman could. He and de Villiers put on 93 between lunch and tea after Prince had fallen in the first over after the break. For the first time in the contest the West Indians started looking weary and in need of some inspiration - or, failing that, a really bad umpiring decision, which they got when Russell Tiffin sent Kallis on his way after Edwards's bouncer looped to the keeper off the batsman's right shoulder.

This was a rare blip, though. The umpires combined to produce an excellent performance - that was the sole major error - but the West Indians deserved even more praise, and thoroughly deserved to win. It was a performance of such rousing passion that most neutral observers were convinced that a decade and a half of West Indian decomposition and decline had stopped. Signs of regeneration were unmistake- able, but the road back to world domination will not take four days. More like four thousand.

Man of the Match: M. N. Samuels.
Close of play: First day, West Indies 281-4 (Chanderpaul 43, Bravo 0); Second day, South Africa 122-5 (de Villiers 22, Boucher 18); Third day, West Indies 146-8 (Taylor 2, Powell 0).

© John Wisden & Co.