This article is from Cricbuzz.
By G Rajaraman
It was a night of emotional farewells at the Sydney Cricket Ground. World Cup cricket bid farewell to two giants of the modern game, Mahela Jayawardena and Kumar Sangakkara, while South Africa waved a pleasant good-bye to the word 'chokers' that had come to be associated with them in ICC tournaments by winning their maiden playoff match.
From the first ball to the time the nine-wicket victory was sealed, South Africa's hunger to win shone as brightly as the afternoon sun and under the lights. Sri Lanka baffled their fans with some decisions on either side of the toss and paid the price with a defeat by the highly-motivated Proteas squad in the ICC Cricket World Cup quarterfinals.
Sri Lanka appeared to be too caught up in plotting a web for the South Africa and ending up getting entangled in it themselves.
Sri Lanka appeared to be too caught up in plotting a web for the South Africa and ending up getting entangled in it themselves. There was a hint of subterfuge in their not wanting to make public their decision to rope in debutant off-spinner Tharindu Kaushal as a late replacement for left-arm spinner Rangana Herath.
Why would Sri Lanka want to tinker with the batting order? After all, even if he is not a frontline opener, Lahiru Thirimanne scored a century and two half-centuries in the six league games. And, as Tom Moody pointed out, if they wanted a change at the top, why would they leave Upul Tharanga warming the bench?
Kusal Perera played but one game against Scotland at Hobart and, though, he has opened in more innings than Thirimanne, Sri Lanka appeared to overlook the fact that they had themselves not picked the left-hander in the World Cup squad in the first place but had roped him in a replacement for Dinesh Chandimal.
Worse, Sri Lanka changed their approach to the task of batting itself. Why would Kumar Sangakkara, the man with an unprecedented four World Cup hundreds in-a-row, not attempt to force the pace against disciplined new ball bowling? Why would Mahela Jayawardena, him with 448 ODI caps, be so unable to read Imran Tahir's googly, even on a two-paced pitch?
South Africa were supposed to feel the pressure, more so after Sri Lanka won the toss and took first strike on Wednesday. But early wickets by Kyle Abbott and Dale Steyn helped them transferred the shoes to the other feet soon and caused a nervy Sri Lanka to implode against spinners, Imran Tahir and JP Duminy.
There can be no doubt that the bowlers, even part-time off-spinner Duminy who became the first South African to claim a World Cup hat-trick, bowled with discipline and purpose. Or, that Tahir conjured a probing spell that left Jayawardena, no less, befuddled. Yet, it must be said that most Sri Lanka batsmen seemed weighed down by the occasion.
The only exception was Thirimanne. Walking in to bat in the fifth over, played in characteristic style, knocking the bowling around while they focussed on keeping Sangakkara quiet. But after making 41 (48 balls, five fours) and dominating the 65-run stand with Sangakkara (45, 96 balls, three fours), Thirimanne drove a tame return catch to Tahir.
Angelo Matthews brought some sanity but he fell to a poor shot, as well. From 114 for four, Sri Lanka collapsed to 133 in the span of 27 deliveries with Duminy claiming the wickets of Nuwan Kulasekara who walked after edging to de Kock, though the umpire had ruled him not out and debutant Tharindu Kaushal in his next over.
Chasing the small target, South African opener Quinton de Kock justified the continued faith that the tour selectors showed in him despite his scoring just 53 runs in the six league games by more than doubling his tally with a brisk knock. Hashim Amla, who was expected to anchor the chase, fell to a catch at square third-man.
Mahela Jayawardena and Kumar Sangakkara, with 26884 runs and 44 centuries between them, deserved a better farewell game.
For cricket romantics and yes, there are some who watch ODIs with as much passion as they would a Test match this was a double tragedy. Not only did Sri Lanka's implosion come as a shock for those expecting quality contest but also Mahela Jayawardena and Kumar Sangakkara, with 26884 runs and 44 centuries between them, deserved a better farewell game.
Yet, the romantics could draw joy that 23 years after rain and a silly rain-rule robbed them of a certain victory over England at the same venue, the South Africans had finally won a knockout game in an ICC Cricket World Cup. The team had embraced the word 'chokers' openly and dealt with it like men that it was a matter of time that they bid that farewell.
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