While the Proteas’ World Cup playoff hopes have already been dashed, they can still have a say in the makeup of the four semi-finalists starting against Sri Lanka, writes JOHN GOLIATH.
Faf du Plessis’ team are essentially having a pretend tea party in their final two matches of this World Cup. They will sip on empty tea cups and imaginary cake will be served throughout. They have got nothing to play for, not even imaginary pride.
However, their opponents won’t be in that frame of mind, especially not Friday’s foes Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka are still gunning for a place in the semi-finals following a shock win over England. In fact, they can go level on points with the hosts if they can get the better of the beleaguered South Africans at the Riverside Ground at Chester-le-Street.
There are likely to be a couple of changes for the Proteas, with players such as Dwaine Pretorius and Tabraiz Shamsi possibly getting a run, while veteran left-hander JP Duminy may also come in after being dropped in the last few matches.
Sri Lanka, on the other hand, will probably go into the match with the same lineup. Their bowling will again depend on the guile and X factor of Lasith Malinga, who has rolled back the years with some top bowling performances at this World Cup.
No rain is expected at Chester-le-Street. This will be Durham’s first match of the World Cup, so the pitch should be nice and fresh. Maybe this is the match where South Africa can finally get some runs on the board at a venue where they have not played before.
The Proteas have nothing to play for, but owe themselves and the cricket-loving South African public a top performance to ease some of the pain of their premature exit. However, many South African fans won’t mind the Proteas losing if it hurts the English!
PLAYER TO WATCH
Faf du Plessis. The Proteas captain has cut a frustrated figure at this World Cup. But he needs to pick his team up so that they can finish off their campaign on a positive note and scoring South Africa’s first century of the event is a lovely place to start.
In the past 10 years this most northern ground at the World Cup has hosted just seven ODIs. In that time there have been three hundreds but 17 half-centuries. Tenuous links between stats and narratives are easy to draw but this would suggest that it’s easy to get in at the Riverside.
It’s the kicking on that’s difficult. Hashim Amla and Quinton de Kock are the sixth- and seventh-best converters in ODI history. In the past five years, only India have a better conversion rate than South Africa’s 47%. Sri Lanka, their opponents here on 28 June, have the second-worst conversion rate in the competition with 21.9% (only better than Afghanistan). The lesson? Be patient. Wickets will come.