For Sri Lanka to win the World Cup quarter-final against South Africa, they must bat first and look beyond AB de Villiers, says Muttiah Muralitharan.
The legendary Sri Lankan spinner, in his column for the ICC website, says De Villiers is a key player, who they need to attack at the earliest opportunity, but they must not forget the other batsmen around him.
‘I just hope the Sri Lanka squad does not put itself under undue pressure by focusing too much on the importance of his wicket,’ he wrote.
‘Yes, he is the Proteas’ key man, as he has shown both through this tournament and over a number of years. But putting him on a pedestal would do them no good at all. After all, South Africa’s batting line-up is no one-man band. There are Hashim Amla, Faf du Plessis, David Miller and JP Duminy, for starters, who can hurt you badly, and that ignores what the less-experienced Rilee Rossouw and Farhaan Behardien can do as well.’
It is vital for Sri Lanka to take early wickets and get De Villiers in early, which would alter his style of play.
‘I know first-hand how tough De Villiers is to bowl at and in recent years, when we were together in the Indian Premier League, I marvelled at the range of shots he possessed. He is quick on his feet, inventive and his no fear approach puts bowlers under pressure from the word go.’
‘So Sri Lanka need to focus on taking early wickets and getting De Villiers in as quickly as possible because if they can do that then he will need to adapt his game to those circumstances. If he comes in with a platform laid, wickets in hand and the field spread then that is a licence for mayhem, especially against a Sri Lanka attack that has struggled to contain opponents throughout this World Cup. But if De Villiers comes in at 80-3, especially in a big chase, then that could be a different story entirely.’
The chase is also a major factor, said the veteran. The side batting first at the SCG wins 58% of the matches, but Murali believes the pressure of a knock-out game makes runs on the board even more of an advantage for the side batting first.
‘It is a ground I know very well – I played eight ODIs there – and if you can get past 300, especially in a one-off clash with so much at stake then, unless you bowl very badly, you are very much in the driving seat.
‘Australia showed against Sri Lanka the value of big runs on the board at the venue so that although Kumar Sangakkara, Tillakaratne Dilshan and Dinesh Chandimal played brilliantly, it was just too difficult to maintain the required rate of more than seven runs per over throughout the innings.
”A total in excess of 300 batting first means the side needing to get those runs has to go at a run a ball from the outset and, if wickets go down and the run-rate increases, and in the knowledge of it being a win or bust encounter, batsmen’s brains can get scrambled very easily.
‘So, providing the pitch is a decent one then if the coin comes down in Mathews’ favour on Wednesday I think it would be advantage Sri Lanka, even before a ball has been bowled.’