That really seemed all so easy, didn’t it? The boys made light work of it and congratulations to them.
Even before Quinton de Kock held on to the catch offered by Kusal Perera you could see the boys were up for a scrap. This was the type of performance I expected against India at Melbourne. I’d said before that match that I’d expected our boys to bomb India’s top order. It didn’t happen and we looked lethargic in that big defeat.
This was completely different. Kyle Abbott was the player who gave the ‘Billy Bowden’ finger in the countdown to start the match and he struck early to have Sri Lanka 3 for 1 in the second over. De Kock, in holding on to the catch, told us that the collective team fire and intent was there.
I thought the boys bowled magnificently. The way in which Kyle, Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel bowled to Kumar Sangakkara stopped any momentum that Sri Lanka might have been looking to get. It prevented them getting any type of score that would have been challenging to chase.
Dale bowled with aggression and he was superbly backed up by Morne. We don’t need to go into how much of a legend Sangakkara is, and he remains the highest run-scorer in the tournament after this quarter-final. That says how much form he was in.
He was there for two-and-a-half hours for his 45 and I reckon he made up his mind to hold up one end because the wickets were falling at the other. But he made a mistake with that mindset, although we can’t give enough praise to the South African bowlers for keeping him quiet.
Sangakkara, especially early in his innings, loves to keep the scoreboard ticking. Throughout his stellar career he has got runs early on when he’s been given a bit of width by the bowlers; he dabs the ball down to third man and rotates the strike. It’s tough to keep him quiet.
The South Africans gave him no width and they did a job on him. Yes, he top scored with 45 but it was one of his hardest 45s. When you’re being so contained it’s easy to say he should have tried to play his natural game, but the reality is that he should have.
Sangakkara is the only batsman in ODI cricket to have scored four consecutive hundreds and in doing so he struck them in style, all at this World Cup. He hit 105 not out off 76 balls against Bangladesh, 117 not out off 86 balls against England, 104 off 107 balls against Australia – on this same Sydney Cricket Ground – and 124 off 95 balls against Scotland. Here, he seemed to be all too aware that it was a quarter-final knockout situation and he should have been aggressive, but give credit to the South African bowlers.
But let me mention the role that Imran Tahir played and has played over the last 18 months or so. He is the unsung hero of this side. It’s not that AB is throwing him the ball at the tail end of the innings and asking him to wrap things up. He is taking big wickets at crucial times.
The caught and bowled he took to get rid of Lahiru Thirimanne was a great piece of work. Tahir is not known as the best fielder around but it was a good catch and broke the 65-run partnership between Thirimanne and Sangakkara. It was as vital a catch as De Kock’s was early on.
He then got Mahela Jayawardene and Thisara Perera and it was only fitting that he got the final wicket, that of Lasith Malinga, to wrap things up. He keeps putting up his hand and takes the big wickets. Full credit to him.
As far as the semi-final goes … well, obviously it’s either New Zealand or the West Indies. It’s in Auckland, as we know, and I’d expect New Zealand to be there.
Early thoughts? Spinners don’t do well there, because it’s a small ground, in fact it’s tiny. Batsmen love putting the spinners over the ropes so we have to be smart in our approach. But we can’t change this team. I said a while back that our starting line-up should be, and in batting order, what it is.
Having said that, it’s not going to get any easier from here on in. But for now, great job boys. You beat Sri Lanka at their own game. Let’s roll.