Your essential guide to the Proteas’ Champions Trophy opener against Sri Lanka at the Oval on Saturday.
For the third time in history, the Proteas go in to a major tournament as the No 1 side in the world. It’s a ranking they’ve earned through what has been an incredible period of form since they beat Ireland towards the end of September last year. Whitewash series against Australia and Sri Lanka contributed to their join-best run in their ODI history.
What might somewhat relieve them is the fact that they don’t go in to the Champions Trophy with lofty expectations. The bookies know all too well that the Proteas have failed to make their cricketing prowess count on the biggest stage, and instead it’s England, the hosts, who have been tasked with attempting to match the favourites tag.
Saturday’s opening match against Sri Lanka should be won comfortably without reading too much into it. The islanders were torn apart by the Proteas in the 2015 World Cup quarter-final, and that was despite still boasting a number of their household stars. A dishevelled side met the South Africans earlier this year, and a 5-0 drubbing was the result.
Sri Lanka will ride off the coattails of hope and a nothing-to-lose attitude against Russell Domingo’s side, but with question marks hovering over Angelo Mathew’s fitness, as well as esteem-crashing defeats to Scotland and New Zealand in the warm-ups, not even that is expected to help them.
The Proteas, however, still need to get a job done. They could, and perhaps should, have won the series against England. They boast six players who can say they’re in the top ten in the world, and with no major form or injury concerns to speak of, they should get this game out of the way with ease before the tougher tests come against Pakistan and India.
KEEP AN EYE ON
Imran Tahir endured a rare failure in his only match against England, conceding 68 off his nine overs, and the injury to his left hamstring prevented him from avenging that. He remains absolutely vital to the Proteas’ cause however, especially in the middle overs, where his trickery is expected to force mistakes at key stages. He’s the No 1 spinner in the world, and his record against Sri Lanka is excellent, with 20 wickets from nine matches at an average of 17.60.
Sri Lanka’s dependence on Angelo Mathews and Dinesh Chandimal cost them dearly throughout their tour of South Africa, because Mathews got injured, and Chandimal, whose poor form I learnt today came down to playing with a finger injury, went missing. Instead, they can turn to Kusal Mendis, who’s one of the most promising young batsmen in world cricket. Naturally gifted, naturally attacking, off the back of some good form and only 22 years old, he could make the difference.
Sri Lanka WLLWL
There’s only one selection question for the Proteas, and that’s whether Morne Morkel will play or not. If he does, he’s likely to come in for Wayne Parnell or Andile Phehlukwayo. AB de Villiers hinted at his selection in the pre-match press conference, but then again, he doesn’t make the selection decisions. My gut tells me Morkel will miss out.
Sri Lanka are sweating over the fitness of Mathews, and signs are pointing towards his absence, with the view to getting him fit for the remaining two matches. That means Upul Tharanga will take the skipper’s armband, who confirmed that Niroshan Dickwella will partner him at the top.
PROTEAS 1 Quinton de Kock (wk), 2 Hashim Amla, 3 Faf du Plessis, 4 AB de Villiers (capt), 5 JP Duminy, 6 David Miller, 7 Chris Morris, 8 Wayne Parnell, 9 Andile Phehlukwayo, 10 Kagiso Rabada, 11 Imran Tahir
SRI LANKA 1 Niroshan Dickwella (wk), 2 Upul Tharanga (capt), 3 Kusal Mendis, 4 Dinesh Chandimal, 5 Asela Gunaratne, 6 Chamara Kapugedara, 7 Kusal Perera, 8 Thisara Perera, 9 Nuwan Kulasekara, 10 Lakshan Sandakan, 11 Lasith Malinga
- South Africa have won eight of the last nine ODIs between these teams.
- Nuwan Kulasekara is one scalp short of completing 200 ODI wickets and becoming the fifth Sri Lanka bowler to the milestone
- AB de Villiers, who has now played exactly 100 ODIs as captain, averages a monumental 66.33 when leading the team, with a strike rate of 110
- When these teams last met in the Champions Trophy, in 2009 at Centurion, Sri Lanka won by 55 runs
AB hinting about picking Morkel: ‘Not that the all-rounders can’t do a job, but I’d be leaning towards getting our best bowlers in there.’
AB stern on Tahir’s inclusion: ‘Imran is fit and our No 1 spin bowler, and Kesh understands his role when it comes to that.’
Duminy on missing the IPL: ‘I felt like there was a bit of work to be done and hopefully I can execute the work I’ve put in.’
Upul Tharanga on his side’s chances: ‘From the outside it will look like South Africa have an advantage going into this match, because they beat us recently. But there’s also something to be said about going in as underdogs. We know what we have to do to beat them.’
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