South Africa followed up their bruising loss to Australia by almost throwing away a well deserved victory against a strong Sri Lanka in their opening Super 8 game. Sri Lanka had looked in superb form in the group phase, beating a much fancied India rather easily, as well as Bangladesh and Bermuda. Winning the toss, in conditions that seemed more like Colombo then Guyana, Sri Lankan captain Jaywardene had no hesitation in deciding to bat, hoping that the pitch would offer more and more assistance to spin as the game went on. Just as in the game against Australia Shaun Pollock, ranked the best ODI bowler by some margin, found himself targeted by the opening batsmen, going for 33 in his first 4 overs. Unlike that game however Ntini kept things tight and disciplined from the other end and picked up the wicket of Uthapata, who had scored 50’s in his 4 previous knocks at this World Cup. Again unlike in the loss to Australia, Smith took Pollock off after an expensive opening spell, not giving him the extra over that proved a mistake against Gilchrist and Hayden on Saturday. Pollock was replaced by Langeveld, who bowled with good lines and movement, picking up 2 wickets in his opening spell as well as being economical. The other change bowlers, Kallis and Hall, continued the fine work set up by Ntini and Langeveld, taking wickets before partnerships could develop. The 97 run partnership between Dilshan and Arnold was the only real partnership of any substance, as good bowling and the customary great fielding by the South Africans, kept the run rate in check. A big deference to this South African attack was the inclusion of Robin Peterson, the spinner, at the expense of a batsmen, Ashwell Prince. Although Peterson went wicketless and didn’t do anything to spectacular in his 5 overs, he did manage to bring an added bit of variation to a South African attack that has at times seemed one dimensional. South Africa managed to take the last 4 Sri Lankan wickets for just one run, bowling them out for 209, The innings also included a run out by Gibbs that bore more then a passing resemblance to the famous Jonty Rhodes run out of Inzamam in 1992. Langeveld was the pick of the bowlers with 5/39, but as a unit the South Africans would have been very pleased to have restricted a very strong Sri Lankan batting line up to a modest score in conditions that would have suited the sub continental team more. South Africa did everything right that they did wrong against Australia, putting that poor bowling performance behind them, and showing the lessons learned from defeat can be drastically effective in victory. The batting saw de Villiers go early – bowled for a duck by Vaas. Vaas bowled a super opening spell, but rather then allowing themselves to be tied down and put under pressure, South Africa scored freely from the other end, particularly off Malinga. When chasing a daunting score, as they did on Saturday, perhaps Kallis is not the best to come in when he did. This time however was just the situation that Kallis proves so effective in. Batting well within himself, he allowed Smith to score freely while he himself steadily went about accumulating runs at a reasonable rate. The run rate was always above the required rate and meant that the pressure was off the batsmen and South Africa were always in control. This control, scoring freely off bowlers like Malinga and Maharoof, meant that a small target of 210 could be met without having to take any risks against Murli or Vaas.Smith went for a well played 59 and Kallis went on to pass his 75 half century in ODI’s. The solid work done by Smith, kallis and Gibbs was tested by the quick losses of Gibbs, Boucher and Kemp, that meant that a straight forward comfortable victory had its nerves and composure tested. And it could not have been tested in a more dramatic and nerve wrecking manner. With South African on 206/5, needing only 4 runs to win with overs to spare, they proceeded to almost throw away their well deserved victory. Malinga, back for his last spell and getting the ball to swing, and reverse, at pace, made cricketing history by taking 4 wickets in 4 balls. Suddenly, from being comfortably placed, South Africa were hang on and battling for the last 4 runs. with their last pair at the crease. Langeveld managed to survive Malinga and Vaas, and Peterson got a think edge to the third man boundary for the winning runs. All that would have mattered in the end for the South Africans was the points for a win, but they would not have counted on it coming so dramatically. While Sri Lanka will be able to draw on the performance of Malinga at the end, the South Africans should put the closeness of the victory behind them and focus on the positive points they can take from this match. The bowling, especially after Pollock was once again targeted, was superb. The bowling at the death was quite impressive. They managed to bowl a side out, which is something that they have struggled to do in recent years. The batting, until victory was only an inch away, was well measured and controlled. Smith is leading from the front and is getting support from someone else in the top order in each match. They managed to beat a very strong side, a form side, in conditions that would have favoured the opposition. Most importantly, they won the game. After the heartbreak that they have suffered in previous world cups, this was a game they could have lost. But they managed to get over the line in the end and have the 2 points they set out for at the start of the day. In the end that’s all that mattered.
South Africa beat Sri Lanka – Just!