TELFORD VICE, Sydney
YES, it’s almost that time again; when you grip your remote with knuckles white and try to ignore the ghastly ghosts gamboling ghoulishly in the dark dungeon of your mind.
There are six of them, one for each of SA’s six failed World Cup campaigns – a horrible half-dozen of what might have been, if only …
Come in No. 7, your time is up. Or it will be if SA beat Sri Lanka in their quarter-final at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) on Wednesday.
The first ball is due to be bowled at 5.30am, SA time. If the match runs its course it will end at around lunchtime.
In those few hours, so much could have become so different for so many cricketminded South Africans. Or it could be the same, only worse.
Infamously, SA have never won a knockout match at a World Cup. To do so on Wednesday would be to rewrite history. To lose would be to repeat the mistakes of the past. And this is only the quarterfinal – it is too soon to panic.
“We’ve spoken long and hard about playing the big games and the big moments really well,” SA coach Russell Domingo said on Monday. “I am expecting a big performance from us.”
In Dale Steyn and Lasith Malinga, each side have a bowler who packs a reputation for causing mass destruction. But, between them, they have taken just 20 wickets in 12 matches at the World Cup.
If Steyn finally finds a dominant performance, SA will win. The same goes for the Lankans if Malinga wreaks his havoc.
But, for now, Wednesday’s spotlight remains focused on a pair of batsmen who have lit up the tournament like no others.
Despite playing on the biggest stage, Kumar Sangakkara has become the first batsman to score centuries in four consecutive ODI innings. AB de Villiers, meanwhile, needed just one trip to the crease to garner similar attention, although his 162 not out against West Indies at the SCG on February 27 was worth several innings from any other player.
“We had a cup of coffee with Kumar in Christchurch before the serious business started,” Domingo said. “He’s just such a lovely, unassuming guy. AB de Villiers is very similar. They’re really good blokes.
“But if all our focus is on Kumar Sangakkara we are going to be under pressure because Sri Lanka have some very good players.
“And if Sri Lanka are just focusing on AB de Villiers that will suit us nicely, because we also have some seriously good players in our ranks.”
Not that Domingo was shy to bowl the odd googly: “You’ve got to think there is a low score (for Sangakkara) just around the corner. What could work in our favour is that hopefully he still thinks he’s on 110 when he walks out, so maybe he will give us a chance to get him out early.”
The most compelling evidence that SA are not a one-man team is in the fact that they have the biggest contingent of non-playing squad members at the tournament. The latest to pop up is explorer Mike Horn.
“He has done a lot scarier things in the world than facing Dale Steyn or Morne Morkel, and he will put it all into perspective: what pressure is like and what fear is like; being out of your comfort zone, because he’s been in that situation lots of times with real life experiences – not just facing a cricket ball.”
The Horn force will not be with you on Wednesday morning. The remote, then, is all yours.
SA v Sri Lanka in World Cups
P4 W2 L1 T1 (1992 – 2007)
For: 229/6 (Kingsmead – March 3, 2003)
Against: 268/9 (Kingsmead – March 3, 2003)
For: 195 (Wellington – March 2, 1992)
Against: 110 (Northampton – May 19, 1999)
For: Jacques Kallis 86 (Guyana – March 28, 2007)
Against: Marvan Atapattu 124 (Kingsmead – March 3, 2003)
For: Charl Langeveldt 5/39 (Guyana – March 28, 2007)
Against: Lasith Malinga 4/54 (Guyana – March 28, 2007)