Tahir and de Villiers do the damage
Imran Tahir made an instant impression on his one-day international debut and AB de Villiers enhanced his burgeoning World Cup credentials as South Africa opened their campaign with a seven-wicket win.
Tahir, the Pakistan-born leg-spinner who qualified for his adopted country only in the lead-up to this tournament, showed an immediate liking for the grandest stage by returning figures of 4-41 to help limit West Indies to 222 in Delhi.
Barring the early loss of Hashim Amla and Jacques Kallis, South Africa’s pursuit of a modest total was largely untroubled, de Villiers profiting from a flat deck and rapid outfield to construct a wonderful unbeaten 107.
Given that he made 146 against the same opponents in the 2007 World Cup, it is safe to say West Indies are glad to see the back of him.
The Indian authorities and the International Cricket Council will also be relieved that the surface played as well as it did, for the last international to be held on this ground, in late 2009, was abandoned due to an unfit pitch.
That de Villiers, who faced 105 deliveries and hit eight fours and two sixes today, was at the crease when victory was sealed with 7.1 overs to spare was no less than he deserved for an innings of the highest calibre.
However, Tahir played the key role in a collapse that saw West Indies fall from 113 for one, a slide so precipitous that they failed to bat out their overs after South Africa won the toss.
It rendered Darren Bravo’s dashing 73 in vain, of particular shame for a player whose extravagant backlift and flowing strokeplay evoked memories of Brian Lara.
The left-handed Bravo, aged just 22 and playing only his 14th ODI, led a thrilling counter-attack after off-spinner Johan Botha had Chris Gayle taken at slip off the third ball of the game.
Having dominated a second-wicket stand of 111 with Devon Smith, Bravo was lbw playing across the line to Botha before Tahir had Smith caught and bowled - a wicket he greeted with a kiss of the South Africa badge - and trapped Ramnaresh Sarwan in front in successive overs.
Dwayne Bravo, Darren’s half-brother, stemmed the tide somewhat with a rapid 40, only to be stitched up by Shivnarine Chanderpaul’s call for a single.
Of further concern to West Indies will be the leg injury which forced Dwayne from the field following a tumble in his follow-through.
West Indies had no answer to the pace and accuracy of Dale Steyn, who struck three times in as many overs to hasten a slide that reached a nadir when Chanderpaul obligingly lifted Tahir to long-off and Devon Thomas sliced an ambitious drive off the same bowler to a back-pedalling JP Duminy at extra-cover.
They had lost their last five wickets for 13 runs and, although Amla was caught behind via inside edge off Kemar Roach and Kallis superbly held low at slip by Darren Sammy to leave South Africa 20 for two in reply, the feeling persisted that West Indies had surrendered the advantage.
De Villiers ensured that was as far as West Indies’ fightback went, and it was a measure of his supreme touch that the first boundary he struck - a beautifully timed back-foot forcing shot through extra-cover - was arguably his best.
There were also sixes over wide long-on and long-off at the expense of Gayle and Sulieman Benn respectively, and his composure was unaffected even after Graeme Smith, who struggled for fluency despite making 45, was bowled aiming across the line at Kieron Pollard.
Duminy assumed the role of support act for de Villiers with minimal fuss, and was discreet enough to finish 42 not out despite managing a solitary four.
Proteas skipper Smith said: "AB played incredibly well. I think those things come with experience, to read situations. And today was one of those times. He played superbly well on a wicket that wasn't so free-scoring.
"It was an incredible knock to go faster than a run a ball and he controlled the game superbly for us, so all credit to him."
Man of the match de Villiers praised Tahir, saying: "He's an amazing talent and it's great to have him in the side.
"It's amazing to see how composed and calm he was today for a debutant in a World Cup game so big ups to him and we'll definitely be sharing a drink tonight. He can have half the man-of-the-match award."