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Spin to play key role in South Africa, Sri Lanka's World Cup opener

Last updated on 06 Oct 2023 | 02:09 PM
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Spin to play key role in South Africa, Sri Lanka's World Cup opener

On a slow and low Delhi surface, the main contest of the game will be between Sri Lankan spinners and South African batters

Gone are the days when Sri Lanka and South Africa would start the tournament as favorites or dark horses. The transition has not been kind to both teams. In addition, the long-running issues within the board have watered the wine further. Since 2015, both sides have had a disappointing World Cup journey across formats - edition after edition. 

Yet, it would be utterly wrong to say the two teams lack any talent. Both countries have continued to produce players with potential, toppling quality sides on their day. South Africa trumped Australia 3-2 after being 0-2 down only a few weeks ago. They will carry that confidence into the tournament. Sri Lanka, on the other hand, will be carrying the burden of their last ODI - the Asia Cup final, which saw them shot down for 50. But with Asian conditions on offer in the World Cup, they will hope to punch above their weight. 

However, for them to leave a lasting impact in the tournament, a lot of things need to go right. 

Things to watch out for

Sri Lanka spinners vs South Africa’s middle-order

Sri Lanka’s spin department is their biggest strength in this World Cup. In Delhi, they will be well placed to exploit that to the maximum. However, they will be up against one of the most dynamic middle-orders against spin bowling. Each of Rassie van der Dussen, Aiden Markram, Heinrich Klaasen and David Miller have excellent numbers versus spinners, with a strike rate in excess of 100 being the common factor among them. Consequently, South Africa have the best strike rate against spin in ODIs since 2022 - 104.3. 

However, even South African batters have surrendered to spin on odd occasions. The Arun Jaitley Stadium will bring the horror memories of the third ODI played at the same venue last year. The Proteas were bowled out for 99, losing eight wickets to India spinners for only 65 runs. They averaged 8.1 runs per wicket against spin that day, their lowest against spin in an ODI since 2022. 

Hence, South Africa’s skillful batters tackling the Sri Lankan spinners will be one of the most intriguing matchups of this contest. 

Can the Sri Lankan batting step up?

Sri Lanka’s campaign will heavily rest on how their batting pulls through. Not that it lacks any potential but batting has often been the Achilles heel for the Lankans. When it goes down, it is quick to crumble. 

Among the 10 World Cup teams, their top order’s (batting position one to three) average is third lowest (37.7), and their middle order (batting position flour to seven) joint second lowest (28.4). In the warm-up game against Afghanistan, Sri Lanka collapsed from 240/2 at the time of Kusal Mendis retiring hurt to 294 all-out.

Pathum Nissanka’s form has tapered off a bit. He didn’t manage a 50+ score during the Asia Cup. Despite some impactful knocks in 18 ODIs this year, Charith Asalanka has nine innings of scoring 25 or under. Mendis, their number three batter, has seven single-digit scores in 21 innings this year. Dasun Shanaka, one of the only three Sri Lankan batters to have scored a hundred this year, averages 16.1. Thus, batting will be a cause of concern for Sri Lanka. 

All will then depend on someone like Sadeera Samawickrama to punch above weight on World Cup debut. 

However, they average 44 against spin since 2022 as compared to 26.7 versus pace. The fact that South Africa are struggling in their pace department can help Sri Lanka to hit the mark right away. 

Ground Details and Conditions

Delhi is one of the slower tracks in India. In the last ten innings at this venue, only thrice has a team scored at a run rate of above five runs/over. The batting teams have scored at a run rate of only 4.6, and their average is less than 25. In six out of ten innings, teams have been all-out. Hence, expect a low-scoring game. The spin proficiency of both sides can lead us to a nail-biter. 

Tactical Insights

> Quinton de Kock averages only 27.4 against off-spinners, his lowest against any bowling type in ODIs since 2022. Sri Lanka would like to target the left-hander with Dhananjaya de Silva or Asalanka without wasting any time.

> Mendis is a free-flowing batter but can be limited by left-arm spinners. Since 2022, he averages 65.5 against left-arm orthodox but has a strike-rate of only 64.8. Keshav Maharaj is the perfect foil to keep a check on Sri Lanka’s number three. 

Probable XIs

Sri Lanka

The Island nation is carrying some injury concerns in their camp. They are already missing Dushmantha Chameera and Wanindu Hasaranga, two of their first-choice personnel in their bowling attack. In addition, Maheesh Theekshana joined the squad on Thursday night (October 5), only two nights before this fixture. If he misses out, Sri Lanka’s spin bowling resources will be halved.

Kusal Perera also suffered a blow during the warm-up games. If he remains unavailable, Dimuth Karunaratne will sneak in after he was dropped earlier in the Asia Cup. 

Pathum Nissanka, Kusal Perera/Dimuth Karunaratne, Kusal Mendis (wk), Sadeera Samarawickrama, Charith Asalanka, Dhananjaya de Silva, Dasun Shanaka ( c ), Dunith Wellalage, Maheesh Theekshana, Matheesha Pathirana, Lahiru Kumara

South Africa

South Africa have no fitness concerns. The Delhi track may influence them to pick Tabraiz Shamsi to partner Keshav Maharaj in the spin department alongside the part-time off-spin of Aiden Markram. With the grip on offer, Lungi Ngidi should be selected ahead of Gerald Coetzee but that leaves them weak in the pace department, so it might be a tough call for the management.

Quinton de Kock (wk), Temba Bavuma ( c ), Rassie van der Dussen, Aiden Markram, Heinrich Klaasen, David Miller, Marco Jansen, Keshav Maharaj, Kagiso Rabada, Lungi Ngidi, Tabraiz Shamsi

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