Struggling South African fast bowler Dale Steyn must find a way to contain record-breaking West Indian batsman Chris Gayle in Friday’s crunch World Cup clash.
Steyn’s cutting edge has been blunted at the tournament so far with his two matches giving him total figures of two for 119 from a win over Zimbabwe and a crushing loss to India.
Gayle, too, struggled at the start of the competition, making 36 in the defeat by Ireland and just four in the win over Pakistan.
But he roared back to form with his sensational, record-breaking 215 against Zimbabwe in Canberra on Tuesday, the first-ever double century at a World Cup.
Now the spotlight at the Sydney Cricket Ground will be trained on Steyn, who has only ever dismissed Gayle once in their one-day international clashes.
That came in the first match of five on the eve of the World Cup when Gayle hit a breezy 41 in damp Durban, albeit in a losing cause.
The 35-year-old Jamaican hit two fours in Steyn’s first over as he and fellow opener Dwayne Smith, who will also play Friday, put on 51 for the first wicket inside the opening six overs.
Gayle swung at almost everything as he made his runs off 24 balls, with two sixes and five fours before Steyn pounced for the wicket.
In the preceding two-match Twenty20 series, Gayle hit 77 on the back of the fastest ever half-century in the format at Centurion and then blasted 90 off 41 balls in the second game at the Wanderers where the West Indies achieved a world record run-chase.
Gayle was man-of-the-match after he shared a second-wicket stand of 152 off 75 balls with Marlon Samuels, who made 60.
Steyn did not play in those T20s but he will be under even greater scrutiny on Friday with fellow seamer Vernon Philander sidelined due to a hamstring strain and Wayne Parnell having been pummelled into submission by India at the MCG last weekend with the left-armer finishing with figures of one for 85.
South Africa skipper AB de Villiers admitted there was often a conundrum over where best to bowl Steyn — as a lethal weapon against the top order or as a ‘death bowler’ slamming the brakes on the runs.
Against India, Steyn bowled just four overs in the first 25.
“It depends on the situation of the game. I just go on my gut feel,” said de Villiers. “I could sit here and say that maybe my gut feel was wrong.
Maybe not. That’s just the way I felt. The game, the rhythm of the game, that’s the way I read the situation, and it probably didn’t pay off (against India).”