Man to fear as Proteas likely to face Sri Lanka
THEY have topped 300 three times – twice with the loss of only one wicket – been dismissed twice, once for more than 300, and won three of the five games they have played at this year’s World Cup.
Their opponents have been bowled out twice, reduced to nine wickets once and managed to stop the slide at six wickets in two other games.
They harbour the only batsman who has scored three centuries in the tournament. They also have the bowler who, going into yesterday’s action, had the best average and third-best economy rate and strike rate.
Kumar Sangakkara and Ajantha Mendis are those players, but they are only two of the reasons Sri Lanka are a formidable team – a side South Africa are likely to face in the quarterfinals at the Sydney Cricket Ground next Wednesday.
Sri Lanka’s loss to Australia by 64 runs in Sydney on Sunday in their penultimate group match means they are on course to finish third in pool A, with the Proteas likely to hang onto second spot in pool B.
A Sri Lanka win would have put them in second place in the pool and all but secure a quarterfinal between Australia and South Africa in Adelaide next Friday.
Considering South Africa have won just one of the five World Cup games they have played against the Australians since 1992, and lost only one of their four against the Sri Lankans, a date with the latter is probably the better bet for AB de Villiers’ men.
That said, the Proteas had never lost a World Cup match to India or Pakistan going into this edition of the tournament – and those are the only World Cup teams who have beaten them so far this time.
Not that that kind of nitpicking meant much to Sachithra Senanayake.
“We aren’t worried about [finishing third instead of second],” he said after the loss to Australia. “The thing is, we are already in the knockout rounds,” Senanayake said.
“The first round is all over, even though we have one match left [against Scotland tomorrow in Hobart]. Once the [knockout matches] start, that will be the World Cup.”
That will also be when the realisation kicks in hard that Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene, who have defined Sri Lankan cricket for more than 10 years and played 848 oneday internationals between them, are involved in their last World Cup.
“We will miss them badly after the World Cup,” Senanayake said. “We know that Sangakkara and Jayawardene are our legends.
“They are the most experienced players in Sri Lanka, so we have to do something for them. This World Cup will be the most important thing for us, actually.”
South Africa are no slouches themselves. They have also totalled more than 300 three times – two of those innings soared past 400. They have been bowled out twice, for less and just more than 200, and dismissed their opponents four times out of five.
Discounting yesterday’s game between England and Bangladesh in Adelaide, South Africa are the only team with two players – De Villiers and Hashim Amla – among the top five runscorers, and the tournament’s fifthmost successful bowler, Morne Morkel.
The Proteas have conceded more than 300 once, while Sri Lanka have given up that many runs three times. Curiously, none of the Proteas’ bowlers feature under the top five.
But South Africa’s focus will be on batting in their last pool game against the United Arab Emirates in Wellington on Thursday.