We’re at the business end of the World Cup, where South Africa need to make history to reach the semi-finals. SACricketmag.com picks the key battles going into Wednesday’s quarter-final against Sri Lanka.
1. Morne Morkel v Kumar Sangakkara
South Africa’s leading wicket-taker at the 2015 World Cup versus the tournament’s top run-scorer, thanks largely to a record four consecutive centuries, will make for arguably the most intriguing head-to-head clash of the lot. Neither Dale Steyn, Imran Tahir, Kyle Abbott nor Vernon Philander have dismissed Sangakkara in ODI cricket in the last six years, while Morkel has done so on three occasions. The veteran left-hander has averaged well over 70 in his last 10 innings against the Proteas, including back-to-back centuries and three half-tons on the trot, and will relish this challenge against a rare nemesis through the last couple of weeks of a prolific ODI career.
2. Rilee Rossouw v Lasith Malinga
The year was 2012, when Basnahira Cricket Dundee recruit Rossouw was left bloodied and floored by Ruhuna Royals pace ace Malinga’s vicious bouncer in the Sri Lanka Premier League. The batsman has hardly faced the bowler since, certainly not in international cricket, as an enticing tie awaits at the Sydney Cricket Ground. Rossouw is all but the complete package nowadays, considerably better equipped to handle the short ball, but it’s those toe-threatening yorkers that will probably provide the bigger challenge, as Shaun Pollock, Andrew Hall and Makhaya Ntini – circa 2007 – will attest.
3. Quinton de Kock v Rangana Herath
Two scenarios exist, as De Kock attempts to correct a blighted campaign, with the blessing of AB de Villiers, who evidently does not want to play wicketkeeper: South Africa will retain the left-hander at the top of the order, where he might face a fresh challenge against a team comfortable with opening the bowling with a spinner – or he’ll be demoted and face Herath later in the piece regardless. De Kock’s last ODI innings against Sri Lanka, in July 2014, was a sparkling century in Hambantota – and he has only been dismissed twice by Sri Lankan spin in six attempts, which is hopefully pointing toward a turn in fortune.
4. AB de Villiers v Angelo Mathews
Brendon McCullum, Brad Haddin, Moeen Ali and more: Mathews has some pretty big scalps to his name since returning from injury earlier this year. Dismissing De Villiers, though, would surely rank as the very best. A big-hitter himself, Mathews will more or less know the objectives of his opposite number, and a couple of characteristic changes of pace might prove fruitful. Meanwhile, now more than ever, is the time for the South African big gun to deliver plenty of runs, and maybe lay the groundwork for a much-anticipated, desperately-sought turn-up in the World Cup history books.
5. Mike Horn v Jeremy Snape
While it won’t pan out on the field, this meeting holds great importance in affecting the players’ mindsets. Prior to the World Cup, Russell Domingo waxed lyrical about South Africa not needing a so-called ‘mental conditioning’ coach. Quarter-final jitters, however, have presumably caught up with the coach – hence the enlistment of Horn again. Globally acknowledged as the world’s greatest modern-day explorer, Horn will ostensibly help the Proteas cope with the esoteric and physical rigours of the business end of the tournament. He has a tough adversary in Snape, whose supreme sports psychology continues to serve Sri Lanka very well.