Sydney Quarterfinal Can Produce High-Voltage Cricket

17/03/2015 7:35 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
South Africa's Rilee Rossouw is congratulated by teammates after taking a catch to dismiss United Arab Emirates batsman Saqlain Haider during their Cricket World Cup Pool B match in Wellington, New Zealand, Thursday, March 12, 2015. (AP Photo/Ross Setford)

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By G Rajaraman

A colourful and noisy house will be in attendance as South Africa and Sri Lanka clash at the iconic Sydney Cricket Ground on Wednesday in what can be the best of the quarterfinals games in the ICC Cricket World Cup. Hopefully, curator Tom Parker and his team will roll out a track on which the outcome of the high-voltage game will not depend only on the toss.

The teams have similarities they lost two games each in the league phase; they have had pretty much an even record against one another in the past couple of years; and, they are both hungrily nervous ahead the big game. They have differences, too Sri Lanka have a history of doing well at the World Cup competitions while South Africa are seeking to break new ground.

The teams are blessed with experienced batsmen who can deliver on the big stage but with a more balanced bowling attack, South Africa can fancy themselves of achieving that dream first win in a World Cup play-off game and then head to Auckland for the semifinal. Sri Lanka are yet to find a bowling combination that can stop the talented and determined teams.

If, despite the talk, South Africa take the ghosts of past along with them to the park, they will court trouble. The other significant thing that can stop them from realising their passionate dream of winning a knockout game in the world's premier cricket tournament is Sri Lanka's batting, especially if Angelo Matthews' team takes first strike.

Sri Lanka have the experience of winning big games but they cannot forget that their bowling unit has not been their strongest suit.

Kumar Sangakkara's incredible purple patch has fetched him a tournament high of 496 runs, including four centuries, from six league games while opener Tillakaratne Dilshan is just five runs shy of the 400-run mark. Lahiru Thirimanne has contributed to the Sri Lankan top-order looking the most productive in the tournament.

Sri Lanka have the experience of winning big games but they cannot forget that their bowling unit has not been their strongest suit. Paceman Lasith Malinga was gingerly on his comeback from ankle surgery and the team is still sweating over left-arm spinner Rangana Herath's return from a split finger that needed stitches and kept him out of the last two games.

With a set of stroke-players who can win games on their own, South Africa will need Hashim Amla to play an anchoring effort. Of the batsmen left in the tournament, AB de Villiers is the only one besides Sangakkara to have logged more than 400 runs so far. South Africa's batsmen were not up to scratch when chasing targets set by India and Pakistan.

Talking of losses, Sri Lanka's defeats by co-hosts New Zealand and Australia showed their vulnerabilities, too. As they prepare for battle on Wednesday at SCG whose tracks in the three World Cup games have been on the slower side, Sri Lanka and South Africa will both be looking to avert making mistakes under pressure.

Fans who will throng the iconic Sydney Cricket Ground will be hoping for a humdinger, with the team that holds their nerves getting their nose ahead. It would be a travesty if winning the toss has a direct bearing on the outcome of the game. Certainly, that was the case when South Africa beat the West Indies and Sri Lanka chased a tall score by Australia at the venue.

England bucked the trend by winning after choosing to field first but against Afghanistan. Only a Herculean bowling effort in the afternoon can ensure the replication of that on Wednesday. South Africa are better equipped to achieve that than Sri Lanka. They chose not to train on Tuesday, wanting to keep their minds fresh.

But the moot question remains: Does South Africa's will to win have the strength to overpower their raging desire not to lose in the playoff again?

The teams:

Sri Lanka: Angelo Matthews (captain), Lahiru Thirimanne, Tillakaratne Dilshan, Kumar Sangakkara (wicket-keeper), Mahela Jayawardene, Kusal Perera, Thisara Perera, Seekkuge Prasanna, Lasith Malinga, Rangana Herath Suranga Lakmal, Sachitra Senanayake, Upul Tharanga, Nuwan Kulasekara and Dushmanta Chameera.

South Africa: AB de Villiers (captain), Hashim Amla, Quinton de Kock (wicket-keeper), Faf du Plessis, David Miller, JP Duminy, Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel, Vernon Philander, Imran Tahir, Kyle Abbott, Farhaan Behardien, Aaron Phangiso and Wayne Parnell.

Umpires: Rod Tucker (Australia) and Nigel Llong (England). TV umpire: Bruce Oxenford (Australia). Match referee: David Boon (Australia).


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