TELFORD VICE, Napier
FAF du Plessis should recover from his sore lower back in time to take his place in SA’s World Cup quarter-final against Sri Lanka, who are keen to welcome back Rangana Herath now that he has had the stitches removed from his spinning finger.
In a couple of teams not short on emphatic players Du Plessis and Herath would be vital to their sides’ chances of success at the Sydney Cricket Ground on Wednesday.
Du Plessis’ steady hand on SA’s batting tiller was not missed in their last match of the group stage against the United Arab Emirates in Wellington on Thursday – when even a sluggish performance earned victory by 146 runs.
But Du Plessis is likely to be declared fit for Wednesday. As Hashim Amla said in Sydney on Sunday, “I think Faf is fine. He seemed to be running well on the soccer field, although he missed a ball or two.”
Similarly, Herath’s services were not required for Sri Lanka to hammer Scotland by 148 runs in Hobart on Wednesday. But they could have used his left-arm spin to slow down Australia in Sydney three days previously, where the home side roared to 376/9 and won by 64 runs.
Herath was injured while fielding off his own bowling during Sri Lanka’s match against England in Wellington on March 1 and his stitches only came out on Friday.
But SA will nonetheless prepare themselves to deal with the portly purveyor of perfectly pitched pies. At least, that’s what Herath’s deliveries look like to the civilian eye. However, in his dozen ODIs against SA Herath has twice taken three wickets and has gone for as much as a run-a-ball only once.
While SA have no other known fitness concerns, the Lankans are hopeful that Angelo Matthews will recover from an Achilles problem.
Discounting the game against lightweights Scotland, Wednesday’s match will be Sri Lanka’s first since Dinesh Chandimal was ruled out of the tournament with a hamstring injury after retiring hurt on 52 against Australia.
Chandimal has been replaced by Kusal Perera, the fifth emergency substitute the Lankans have been forced to call for during the tournament.
SA’s challenges have more to do with venturing into unknown territory. They have won 34 of the 53 matches they have played at seven World Cups, but they have yet to come out on top in a knockout game.
“You’re never quite sure what’s going to happen but that’s the nature of World Cups,” Amla said. “When it comes to the knockout stages you want to be the guy to score the big runs to be put the team in a very good position.
“Everybody in the team, especially the senior guys, wants to be that guy – the one to make that big play for us.”
The teams last met in the format in Sri Lanka in July last year, when SA won their first ODI series in the country. They followed that with their first test series victory on the Asian island since 1993.
“Both teams know each other fairly well,” Amla said. “But in a one-off game like this it’s going to be a lovely environment, a lovely intensity that both teams will play.”
Lovely indeed – for the team who win, that is.