Imran Tahir and JP Duminy did the bulk of the damage to limit Sri Lanka to 133 in the World Cup quarter-final in Sydney.
What a response by the Proteas. 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. And yet, 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 has placed them in a fantastic position to win this match.
Imran Tahir and JP Duminy were the pick of the bowlers, which is not to say the other three didn’t play their 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 his first attempt, but managed to pouch it on the second. From that moment on, everything went South Africa’s way.
That’s not to say that the Proteas didn’t make their own luck. 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 stages. 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. Imran 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 changes in pace and delivery, and was ultimately undone when Tahir slipped in 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 still 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, and fittingly it was Tahir who did so.
While there are doubts about the Proteas’ ability to chase a target, they should have no trouble eclipsing Sri Lanka’s paltry 133. They are in a great position to win their first World Cup play-off match and advance to the semi-finals.
Sri Lanka 133 in 37.5 overs (Kumar Sangakkara 45, Lahiru Thirimanne 41, Imran Tahir 4-26, JP Duminy 3-29)
South Africa need 134 to win