Wednesday could well be a red letter day in ODI cricket. It could be end of an era either way as Sri Lanka play South Africa in the first of four quarter-finals. What better setting than the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) to begin the final phase of the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015. (Full Coverage| Points table| Fixtures)
The match will be historic because for South Africa it is a chance to show that they are more than chokers in knockout stages of an ICC event. At the other end you have Sri Lanka hoping to bid farewell to their stalwarts, Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene and Tillakaratne Dilshan in style.
South Africa are the side that falters at crucial stages of a tournament, whereas Sri Lanka seem to raise their game at an ICC event. Sri Lanka were runner-up at both the 2007 and 2011 World Cups, they also made it to the final of 2009 and 2012 World Twenty20 and the semi-finals of the 2013 Champions Trophy. But perhaps their biggest moment was winning the World Twenty20 in Bangladesh last year beating a rampant India in the final. Then in March 2014 it was time to bid farewell to Sangakkara and Jayawardene as T20I cricketers, now it is time to say goodbye to their ODI careers. Sri Lanka have risen admirably in the last 15 years as a cricketing nation. The win in the 1996 World Cup laid the foundation of a grand cricketing tradition.
The problem in 2015, unlike in 2011 and 2007, is the balance of the bowling attack. There is no Muttiah Muralitharan in the line-up anymore and that has left a big hole in the attack. A lot rests on Lasith Malinga and he is not really at his best anymore. The batting relies too heavily on Sangakkara with the other veterans like Dilshan having to come to party every time. The younger players like Lahiru Thirimanne have shown some sparks of their brilliance. But the side is too unbalanced right now.
South Africa’s problems are also manifold. For once their batting seems to reliant on skipper AB de Villiers’ creativity. The rest of the batsmen including the second best batsman in the world, Hashim Amla, are not firing always. So AB is left to do a lot on his own. The younger players like David Miller and Rilee Rossouw need to step up, whereas senior players like JP Duminy need to get more consistent. Surprisingly, the biggest problem is in the bowling. Dale Steyn is effective up front, but his partners Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander have never really been consistent in the ODI format. The bigger issue is in who will bowl the fifth bowlers’ quota in the absence of the regular supply of genuine all-rounders. Against India and Pakistan, the fifth bowler leaked runs and that proved to be the undoing of South Africa.
South Africa have two issues to lay to rest at the SCG, one prove that they can win a knockout match and then show that they are not a one-man team. Sri Lanka have to prove that their bowling is equally effective as their top-order batting. Above all, Sri Lanka want to give a proper send-off to Sangakkara, Dilshan and Jayawardene. A knockout on Wednesday will be too abrupt an end to such scintillating careers. What better than a fairytale end at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, much like what they got last year for their T20I careers in Dhaka.
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