• Proteas bury play-off bogey

    South Africa smashed Sri Lanka by nine wickets in Sydney on Wednesday to win their first ever World Cup knockout match.

    It’s taken 23 years and six World Cup tournaments for the Proteas to win their first play-off match. They fell short at the first play-off hurdle at the 1992 global tournament, and again in 1996. They were dumped out at the semi-final stage in 1999 and 2007, and sent home early after a quarter-final loss in 2011. But in the most recent match at the SCG, it was South Africa’s superior mettle and accuracy that led to a resounding and well-deserved victory.

    For long-suffering Proteas fans, there will be a temptation to look no further than the result. Indeed, after two decades of disappointment, this rare, drought-ending victory is one to savour.

    And yet, the quality of the Proteas’ performance deserves mention. It will surely give them confidence as they head into the semi-final in Auckland next Tuesday.

    There was significant pressure on the side as they headed into the playoffs, and that would have increased after they lost the toss and were asked to field first. They managed to strike early, and then strangle Sri Lanka during the middle overs. Against every expectation, their collective brilliance with the ball and in the field reduced Sri Lanka to 133 all out inside 40 overs.

    Man of the Match Imran Tahir and hat-trick hero JP Duminy combined to take seven Sri Lankan wickets. That is not to say the other three bowlers didn’t play an important part. In fact, it was Dale Steyn and Kyle Abbott who applied the early pressure with some quick and accurate bowling, which was backed up by a sharp performance in the field.

    The Proteas had a slice of luck when Quinton de Kock dived in front of first slip to take a catch. The wicketkeeper bobbled the ball on the first attempt, but managed to pouch it on the second. From that moment on, everything went South Africa’s way.

    Kusal Perara’s departure brought the dangerous Kumar Sangakkara to the crease in just the second over. Sangakkarra was in form, having cracked four consecutive centuries during the pool stage. And yet, in the face of some accurate, and at times aggressive bowling, he struggled, and took as many as 16 balls to get off the mark.

    Lahiru Thirimanne took the fight to the South Africans, and was relatively successful. But Sangakkara’s struggles at the other end would eventually tell on the junior batting partner. Tahir made the key breakthrough, taking a sharp catch off his own bowling to dismiss Thirimanne.

    Tahir had been the best of South Africa’s bowlers during the pool stage, and was at the top of his game in this quarter-final. Mahela Jayawardene battled to read the leg-spinner’s variations, and was ultimately undone when Tahir bowled a quicker ball. Jayawardene was never in control of the pull shot, and Faf du Plessis pouched an easy catch at midwicket.

    AB de Villiers managed his bowlers superbly over the course of the innings, especially the two spinners. There was a lot of pressure on Duminy to deliver in this contest as the fifth bowler. Duminy not only obliged with an economic performance, but a wicket-taking one.

    Tahir claimed his third when Thisara Perera edged a ball to slip, and it was from this point that Sri Lanka began to crumble. Duminy took his first wicket when Nuwan Kulasakera was caught by De Kock. The fifth bowler struck twice in his following over to claim a hat-trick and destroy Sri Lanka’s hopes of posting a formidable total.

    Some may have felt that Sri Lanka still had a chance while Sangakkara was at the crease. The veteran attempted to farm the strike, but was eventually out when he sliced a Morné Morkel delivery to third man. It took all of 95 balls and nearly 37 overs for Sangakkara to accumulate his 45 runs.

    The dismissal of Sangakkara was accompanied by a heavy shower that forced the players from the field. However, when play resumed, it didn’t take long for South Africa to take the final wicket. Fittingly, it was Tahir who did so.

    The bowling performance set up South Africa for a comfortable victory. But take nothing away from the batting effort, especially that of De Kock.

    The odds were always against Sri Lanka defending 133, but their cause wasn’t aided by some average bowling and fielding. By contrast, the Proteas applied themselves well, with De Kock using the opportunity to play himself into form. The flamboyant left-hander played some great strokes during that knock of 78, and ensured that he was still there at the moment of victory.

    New Zealand will play West Indies this Saturday in the fourth and final quarter-final. The winner of that game will advance to a semi-final against the Proteas at Eden Park next Tuesday. After the most recent performance at the SCG, South Africa will go into that contest with momentum.

    Sri Lanka 133 in 37.5 overs (Kumar Sangakkara 45, Lahiru Thirimanne 41, Imran Tahir 4-26, JP Duminy 3-29)
    South Africa 134-1 in 18 overs (Quinton de Kock 78 not out, Faf du Plessis 21 not out)
    South Africa won by nine wickets

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