We pick out five talking points from South Africa’s convincing victory over Sri Lanka in Wednesday’s World Cup quarter-final in Sydney.
1. Spin battle turned on its head
Substantial irony can be found in seven Sri Lankan wickets falling to spin. The bulk of the pre-match conjecture and hypothesis centred around the Proteas’ pace potentially proving too much for the opposition to handle successfully – and the men from the sub-continent possibly outfoxing the South Africans with plenty of spin. Suggestion, too, pointed to the Proteas playing two specialist spinners in the quarter-final in Sydney – if they met Australia. Ultimately, the wile and guile of Imran Tahir and the hat-trick heriocs of JP Duminy were ample. More importantly, AB de Villiers didn’t have to scrounge for a sixth – or even seventh – bowler.
2. Form temporary, class permanent
Cricket is often referred to as a ‘confidence game’, which certainly proved the case for Quinton de Kock on Wednesday. Hashim Amla and de Villiers were very vocal in support of the criticised left-hander throughout the group stages, insisting the proverbial tide will soon turn. Well, the young wicketkeeper-batsman did plenty to shore up this loyal sentiment in Sydney. A great catch to remove Kusal Perera was complemented by Thisara Perera’s early fall (on any other day that ricocheted edge might not have gone to hand at first slip) – and De Kock was ostensibly back to his best in pursuit of a modest total.
3. AB the captain, not the batsman
De Villiers’ near limitless prowess with the bat is frequently at the fore, but opportunity knocks to praise his leadership skills. His rotation of Kyle Abbott, Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel through the opening 20 overs was very effective, and the timing of Tahir and Duminy’s introductions to the fray was quickly vindicated. Attacking throughout, even as Lahiru Thirimanne’s counter-attack briefly took its toll, De Villiers’ confident approach was perhaps epitomised by his unending willingness to afford Tahir a slip, and leave the midwicket region completely vacant. Off the field, rather than pussyfoot around the ‘chokers’ tag, he has been vehement about clinching the title – and continues to walk the talk. Kudos.
4. Disappointing swansong
A sad day for neutral and Sri Lankan fans, as Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara bowed out of ODI cricket. A World Cup quarter-final was a peculiar occasion to experiment with selection, which effectively ended the stalwart duo’s time in limited-overs international competition. Lahiru Thirimanne should have been retained as an opener, rather than dropping down the order to accommodate Kusal. Tharindu Kaushal endured a tough debut and really shouldn’t have played ahead of the more experienced Sachithra Senanayake. Nuwan Kulasekara, too, could have given way to Suranga Lakmal. Whether or not Sangakkara’s exercise in dot-ball accumulation was a proper plan in the wake of two early wickets, or a personal implosion under the pressure, remains in the debatable balance.
5. Semi-final bogey to banish
While South Africa have achieved their first ever triumph in a World Cup knockout match, all and sundry will be fully aware the job is not done yet. New Zealand will likely be the Proteas’ opposition in the first semi-final and, as Faf du Plessis was quick to attest before the tournament got underway, are definitely the bogey opposition. The Black Caps have put paid to the men in green and gold’s ambition several times in the past, and are in the middle of a truly fine stretch of form. A humdinger awaits at Eden Park in Auckland on Tuesday.