Inexperienced Sri Lanka banking on Sharjah familiarity to slay unsettled South Africa

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29 Oct 2021 | 01:40 PM
authorAnirudh Suresh

Inexperienced Sri Lanka banking on Sharjah familiarity to slay unsettled South Africa

Heading into the encounter with a defeat and a victory each, there is no margin of error for either side

We’re coming to that phase of this Super 12 stage where every match is essentially a virtual knockout clash and Sri Lanka’s encounter against South Africa on Saturday is no different. With England and Australia having run away from the rest of the pack in Group 1, Saturday’s clash is effectively a do-or-die match for both the Lankans and the Proteas. The loser will need a miracle to progress.

Sri Lanka, with the bat at least, put up a spirited showing against Australia before fizzling out, and they will know that they have every reason to be optimistic about Saturday’s clash - even though they will be coming up against a side which beat them 3-0 only a month ago.

And the biggest reason for the same is the Sharjah factor. The Lankans have already played twice at the venue, winning both matches, and it is simply a venue that is tailor-made for their style of play. 

The Sharjah wicket allows their spinners to dictate terms, while the small nature of the ground also emboldens their batters, particularly the southpaws Asalanka, Perera and Rajapaksa, to aim for the big hits on a consistent basis. In their last venture in Sharjah, the Lankans hit 10 sixes.

South Africa, on the other hand, put up a T20 clinic against the Windies, but their performance was rather sadly overshadowed by the controversy surrounding Quinton de Kock. 

The Proteas, after a close defeat to Australia in game one, fired on all cylinders against the Windies, and showcased the kind of form that enabled them to win seven matches on the bounce prior to the World Cup. 

Both teams will start with a clean slate, but it is hard not to classify the Proteas as favorites owing to their form all year - even if the wicket turns out to be slow and low. 

Focus on the Lankan attack’s inexperience

Excessive pace, a bit of mystery on the spin-bowling front and plenty of wicket-taking potential.

The statement above could genuinely be used to describe both the attacks. That’s how similar these two sides are, on the bowling front.

Rabada and Nortje are like the ultra-evolved versions of Chameera and Kumara, while Shamsi is nearly a left-handed Hasaranga. Pretorius, meanwhile, in terms of his package, is a carbon copy of Chamika Karunaratne. 

What makes this Proteas attack stand out, though, is the experience it possesses. All bowlers understand their game inside-out, and, most importantly, do not panic when they are put under pressure. It is because of this very reason they were able to strangle the Windies, who at one point threatened to run away with the game after Evin Lewis started going berserk.  

This Lankan attack, in many ways, is the polar opposite. In terms of its potential, this unit is as lethal as any other attack in the world, but it lacks the experience and the knowhow. 

And it was found out in each of the last two games, where the bowlers lost the plot after the batters went on the charge. In particular, the Lankan bowlers endured punishments in overs 7-15 where, across the Australia and Bangladesh games, they were taken apart for 144 runs. 

The South African batting unit has its own frailties, but the Proteas also have batters capable of dismantling attacks across all phases. Look no further than Aiden Markram, who, batting at No.4, killed the chase against the Windies with a 25-ball fifty.

Twice in the last two games, Sri Lanka were let down by their biggest strength, their bowling. As we head into the South Africa clash, the country’s World Cup hopes rest on the bouncebackability of this young and inexperienced attack.

Will Quinton de Kock walk straight back into the XI?

“If he (Bavuma) and the team, and South Africa, will have me, I would love nothing more than to play cricket for my country again."

Quinton de Kock ended his apology for the no-show against the Windies with the line above. He hasn’t been sent back home, so clearly, he is still very much available for selection. 

The question, though, is - will he walk straight back into the XI?

Though it seems like a no-brainer, the answer might not be so straightforward. For the man who replaced him, Reeza Hendricks, grabbed his opportunity with both hands in the last game, scoring 39 while essentially killing off the game through his partnership with van der Dussen. 

It is a complex decision for which there is no ‘right’ answer. By chucking Hendricks out, you are setting a wrong example, punishing a player who directly contributed to the team’s win. But, at the same time, by overlooking de Kock, you are not only leaving out the best T20 batter in your team, but also creating room for more speculation and controversy.

Regardless of what CSA decides, one thing seems certain: for the second match running, the on-field action looks set to be overshadowed by the drama and controversy surrounding one individual. 

Form concerns

With scores of 0, 2*, 0 and 4 across his last 4 games, Avishka Fernando is the only Lankan top-six batter who is yet to fire in this World Cup. The move to No.4 worked like a masterstroke in the warm-up matches leading into the tournament, but the right-hander has struggled big time in the new-found role, finding no rhythm whatsoever. He will have to fire, and fire quickly - not just for the team, but also for himself. Waiting in the sidelines is a certain Dhananjaya de Silva, who will also provide the Lankans with an extra spin option. It is now or never for the 23-year-old.

Temba Bavuma is averaging under 18 and striking at under 120 in T20Is this year, and there is considerable pressure on the Proteas skipper, who is occupying the all-important opening slot. Bavuma was unlucky to have gotten run-out against the Windies, but the fact remains that the South African skipper, to date, has registered just one fifty in his entire T20I career. His place is by no means under threat, but a bowling-heavy unit like South Africa cannot afford one of their top-order batters to be a passenger.

Probable XI

Sri Lanka: Kusal Perera (wk), Pathum Nissanka, Charith Asalanka, Avishka Fernando, Wanindu Hasaranga, Bhanuka Rajapaksa, Dasun Shanaka (c), Chamika Karunaratne, Dushmantha Chameera, Lahiru Kumara, Maheesh Theekshana

South Africa: Quinton de Kock / Reeza Hendricks, Temba Bavuma (c), Rassie van der Dussen, Aiden Markram, Heinrich Klaasen (wk), David Miller, Dwaine Pretorius, Keshav Maharaj, Kagiso Rabada, Anrich Nortje, Tabraiz Shamsi

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South Africa vs Sri LankaICC World Twenty20, 2021Sri LankaSouth AfricaCharith AsalankaAvishka FernandoQuinton de KockWanindu HasarangaMaheesh TheekshanaAnrich Nortje

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