A win today would keep Sri Lanka alive as competition tightens for the three remaining semifinal spots, but for that they have to get past a South African side with nothing to lose.
Sri Lanka are currently seventh, but two points would take them straight up to fifth, just below England, who are themselves in a fight to make the last four now. Of course, any gain on the points table is only momentary as teams continue to scrap hard and displace each other, but it is precisely for that reason that every point from here on out matters.
Sri Lanka were ‘slung’ into the semifinal mix by Lasith Malinga’s match-winning performance against England in their previous match, a week ago. He blazed in and took four wickets as England were bowled out for 212 in chase of a 233-run target.
He might have lost some pace with age but Lasith Malinga makes up for that with his guile and remains a big threat as the Englishmen found out. In Malinga, Sri Lanka have a bowler confronting the limitations of age and fitness with wisdom and the odd dose of magic.
Still evident, it’s the special gift that has made him such a wonderful cricketer for the best part of 15 years. And his performance showed why only fools write off a team with Malinga in it. The break since that England game will have refreshed him for another herculean effort and all eyes will be on the pacer.
The spellbinding effect Malinga exercises on the field is almost commensurate to the swing he generated, an average of 1.1 degrees in his opening spell, against England. Not only did he outswing Mark Wood and Chris Woakes, his spell of bowling was a demonstration of what South Africa have lacked throughout. Accuracy, relentless consistency, and the fabled “something different”.
This was the man that Sri Lanka deemed to not be selectable for seven months in 2018, and his feats against England were complemented by the efforts of Angelo Mathews, who scored a gritty unbeaten 85 to take Sri Lanka to a defendable total.
On the other side will be the Proteas; battered, bruised and ashamed, but looking to regain some semblance of pride from their remaining games.
South Africa have had their worst campaign ever at the World Cup. This is only the second time since their debut in the competition, in 1992, that they have failed to go past the first round. But there is nothing more dangerous in a multi-team tournament than a team with nothing to lose, and South Africa will be eager to prove just that by picking up wins in their last two matches and upset the teams that still stand a chance.
JP Duminy, who is yet to play a game in his final World Cup, came out to the pre-match press conference and confirmed that the team were ‘ashamed’ but would be looking to come back stronger from here on out.
“I think the most disappointing part has been our team performance and I think it will be amiss of me not to mention how disappointed we are particularly letting all our fans down back home,” Duminy said yesterday. “I think we’ve put in a lot of effort in terms of our preparation, in terms of our strategy, going out there with a good mindset, a strong mindset. But, unfortunately, we haven’t been able to produce and executed our plans and that’s been the most disappointing part for all of us, including myself.”
“When you put in performances like that, you know, you in a way almost feel ashamed of that. But we know that it’s not all lost, even though yes, it’s a World Cup and I believe that this team will come back stronger. There will be some sort of introspection around where we have gone wrong, and that’s going to be some conversations ahead post-World Cup and, as I said, I believe that we will come back stronger.”
South Africa wicketkeeper-batsman Quinton de Kock has scored 1104 runs -- the most by any player in the two sides’ current World Cup squads -- in the 23 matches he played against Sri Lanka.
South Africa skipper Faf du Plessis smashed a 141-ball 185 -- his career best ODI score -- against Sri Lanka back in 2017 in Cape Town. This remains the highest individual score in a match by any player between the two sides.
Sri Lanka’s Angelo Matthews is the highest run getter for Sri Lanka among the players in their current squad to have faced South Africa. The all-rounder has scored 481 runs in the 18 matches he played against the Proteas.
Sri Lanka’s Isuru Udana has an average of 55.00 -- the highest by any player on the current Sri Lankan squad -- in the three matches he played against South Africa. He has a high score of 78 against the Proteas.
Imran Tahir has scalped 33 wickets -- the most by any bowler in South Africa’s current World Cup squad -- in the 14 matches he played against the Islanders.
Lasith Malinga has scalped 36 wickets -- the most by any bowler among the two sides’ current World Cup squads -- in the 23 matches he played against South Africa.