World Cup 2015: AB de Villiers, Sangakkara ready for the clash of the titans

  • Nilankur Das, Hindustan Times, Sydney
  • Updated: Mar 18, 2015 07:57 IST

Two of world cricket's most prolific batsmen will face off at the Sydney Cricket Ground on Wednesday and only one, AB de Villiers or Kumar Sangakkara, will stay back. And no matter how both teams have tried to establish that there is more to the first quarterfinal than these two, a good show with the bat by either is likely to make the difference.

It will be nothing short of making cricketing history as far as South Africa are concerned. No matter what arsenal they have carried to World Cups, they have unbelievably never won a single elimination match. Their heartbreak in the 1992 semi-final to England, where rain played spoilsport and cricket's rain rule made it worse, has now forced changes in the playing conditions.

Reopening old wounds

But references to that and 1999 are regularly dug out and presented as questions to the Proteas. "Ok, I know what you are going to ask. Chokers, right?" Both de Villiers and coach Russell Domingo did not let the question finish, as if they wanted to get over with it real fast. But getting over with questions on choking and actually doing something in the middle so the world sheds South Africa's tag is completely different.

Coming into the World Cup as overwhelming favourites alongside hosts Australia, South Africa have already seen their plans and self-belief rattled following losses to India and Pakistan. That didn't really harm them and they have qualified as the second team from Group B. But now that they are up against Sri Lanka, another subcontinent team who are former champions and runners-up in the last two editions, and a loss here will throw them out, South Africa are trying their best to ensure they don't look too ruffled.

Sangakkara has already scored four centuries in the tournament and Sri Lanka's batting has been so overshadowed by his form that Mahela Jayawardene's contribution with the bat has hardly been required. His form has forced the chairman of selectors Sanath Jayasuriya to say that he wished the 37-year-old would reverse his decision to quit limited-overs cricket after the World Cup.

The key man

South Africa skipper De Villiers scored the fastest one-day century in the build up to the tournament, and in the six Cup games has scored the most for his team (417 at an average of 83.4 and a highest of 162 not out). His strike rate has been an amazing 144.29. Sri Lanka know who to train their guns on.

But they had a setback in the afternoon when left-arm spinner Rangana Herath was virtually ruled out of Wednesday's match after failing to recover from the injury to his left index finger - key to impart spin - suffered in the match against England on March 1. The stitches were removed two days back but he had not bowled since. At the nets on Tuesday, he rolled his arm over for four deliveries and quit.

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