Second Test

South Africa v West Indies 2007-08

At Cape Town, January 2, 3, 4, 5, 2008. South Africa won by seven wickets. Toss: West Indies.

Ashwell Prince pushes into the off side, South Africa v West Indies, 2nd Test, Cape Town, January 3, 2008
Ashwell Prince gave South Africa the advantage with his 98 in the first innings © Getty Images

When Graeme Smith sits down at the end of his career and looks back over his many match-winning performances, his 85 on the fourth and final evening here will be high among them. The two-paced, slowish pitch was always hard work for batsmen - the run-rate for each of the first three innings was well below three an over - and South Africa's diligence appeared to have paid off when they had West Indies on the ropes at 167 for eight in the second innings, just 89 ahead. Although the immovable Chanderpaul was still there, Smith's side believed they were just a wicket from the end of the innings, as Gayle had retired earlier, his thumb broken by a Nel lifter. He had already been batting down the order with a hamstring strain.

But South Africa's frustration started with an unlikely career-best 21 by Edwards, and was then compounded when Gayle reappeared, having retired with only a single, and slogged three sixes and four fours in an absurdly brilliant one-handed 38 in a last- ditch stand of 70, which swelled the target to a tricky 185.

An angry Smith led his shell-shocked team from the field, and was still simmering when he came out to bat after tea. The game was, according to popular opinion, evenly matched. The series was at stake and, with runs hard to come by for three and a half days, a back-breaking grind was predicted for the final innings. Many predicted a dispirited batting line-up would capitulate: a West Indies series victory... history, fanfare, glory.

But it didn't happen. Despite two fine slip catches by the remarkable Gayle, Smith smashed his way to victory in an assault which reflected his anger and frustration, and that of his team. "During that last-wicket partnership I was really tearing my hair out and, as a captain, I knew the boys were on their last legs," he said afterwards. "We were looking at a lead of 80-odd, and then Chris Gayle walks in at No. 11... The bowlers had given everything and suddenly he's back, with a broken thumb. The way he plays he can just kill you. And Chanderpaul, he's like a tick you can't get rid of. He doesn't kill you, he just wears you down. So there was massive mental strain for that last session. Chasing 180 in the normal way on that wicket was always going to be difficult, especially if we allowed them to get into their rhythm, so I targeted Powell and I targeted Bravo. There was a plan in my head."

To many observers it looked as though Smith was slogging and that his assault could not last. That was not the way he saw it: "I was calm in my head. I had made a decision and it was important for me to announce, with body language, that I meant business and I was going to play. I had to tell them that they were not suddenly on top of the Test match after one bizarre session. I was very calm about the decisions that I was making."

Smith was finally out trying one big hit too many, but his 85 from 79 balls had settled the destiny of the game and squared the series. He hit 11 fours, many from meaty pulls, but the pick was arguably a cover-drive off Bravo that hurtled to the fence. Prince won the match award for his studious and highly worthy five-hour 98 in the first innings, but that merely served to confirm how misplaced such gongs can some- times be. Every single person at the ground expected a grim and bitter scrap, yet Smith's scientifically planned brutality shredded those expectations so quickly that most observers didn't have time to rethink, let alone change their opinion. In its way, it was a truly brilliant innings.

A statistical oddity came at the very end of South Africa's first innings, when the 33- year-old Grenadian leg-spinner Rawl Lewis took his second Test wicket, more than nine years after his first. His bowling average of 414 - the worst in Test history - was thus slashed to 207, and he improved it further with two more wickets in the second innings.

Man of the Match: A. G. Prince.
Close of play: First day, West Indies 240-8 (Chanderpaul 64, Powell 0); Second day, South Africa 218-5 (Prince 55, Boucher 35); Third day, West Indies 96-4 (Chanderpaul 8, Gayle 1).

© John Wisden & Co.