It’s highly unlikely that anybody will remember the group stages of the 2015 Cricket World Cup when it’s all done and dusted. For South Africa, the real work begins now as they head into the knockout phases. By ANTOINETTE MULLER.
When the Cricket World Cup eventually comes to an end, who will remember anything about the group stages? The answer to that rhetorical question is: almost nobody. South Africa confirmed their spot in the quarterfinals of the competition with a rather ordinary 146-run win over the UAE. That is, of course, as ordinary as such a big-margin victory can be.
Rilee Rossouw, AB de Villiers, David Miller and Farhaan Behardien gave South Africa the impetus with the bat to notch up 341. Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander and Morne Morel did their bit with the ball and South Africa jogged to an easy win. ‘Jog’ is the imperative term as their final group stage match looked more like a net sessions than an attempt to gain momentum before they head into crunch time. The UAE had won the toss and, most curiously, opted to field first despite knowing just how prone South Africa are to cracking under pressure in a chase. Captain Mohammad Tauqir said that they wanted to “put South Africa under pressure by restricting them” but instead the team did the opposite.
Still, South Africa will now face a different kind of pressure. Their relationship with knockout events in ICC tournaments is a contentious one. Just to make it worse, the Proteas have also completely forgotten how to chase recently. There is some time for introspection before the knockout phase rolls out and South Africa will need it. Barring a massive upset, a sinkhole opening up or aliens invading Australia over the weekend, South Africa will most likely face Sri Lanka in the quarterfinals. That itself presents a monumental challenge for South Africa, for Sri Lanka have in their midst a man who is so freakishly talented he can, at times, make even AB de Villiers look almost ordinary.
That man, of course, is Kumar Sangakkara. Sangakkara’s purple patch is so fruitful at the moment that Julius Malema would be calling to nationalise it were he a South African. Then there is Tillakaratne Dilshan, Angelo Mathews and Mahela Jayawordene to think about too. All these players will make South Africa’s job difficult regardless of whether the Proteas bat first or second in the quarterfinals.
South Africa did not really encounter any tough challenges when batting first during the group stages. While they might have notched up 400 consecutively during this World Cup, the reply from the teams who they so squashed hardly even showed an inkling of threat in their responses.
Sri Lanka will not roll over so easily and South Africa’s frontline trio of Morkel, Philander and Steyn will have to box cleverly in order to ensure they stem the flow of runs from Sri Lanka’s top batsmen.
Still, that the Proteas have the players to curb Sri Lanka, there is no doubt. Six of the South African batsmen average above 50.00 in the tournament thus far, but concern remains over Quinton de Kock. The young keeper has accumulated just 53 runs across six games and his confidence isn’t exactly in great shape. A drastic decision like dropping him and forcing De Villiers into taking the gloves for the knockouts also seems unlikely after the South African skipper backed him to the hilt at the post-match press conference on Friday.
“There is no doubt in my mind that Quinton is a match winner and he will play a part in us winning this World Cup. He is still my first pick. When push comes to shove, I believe he will play a big knock for us. I’d hate to see him go but it’s something we’ll discuss as we go on,” De Villiers said.
Well, that’s that settled then. And yes, that is De Villiers saying that South Africa will win the Cup, despite just days ago suggesting that perhaps South Africa are not as good as they think they are.
They are pretty good, though, and that is further underscored by the fact that five of their bowlers have an economy rate of under 5.00. Two average below 20.00 and three more below 30.00. On paper, South Africa have all the makings of being a tough team to compete against; they simply need to find a way to apply themselves on the day when it is most needed. DM
Photo: South Africa’s Hashim Amla (front, L) and captain AB de Villiers (front, R) leave the field after beating the United Arab Emirates in their Cricket World Cup match in Wellington, March 12, 2015. REUTERS/Anthony Phelps