South Africa happy with grassy deck at Chittagong, but still faces uncertainty over fitness of du Plessis and Steyn
On either side of the draw of the ICC World Twenty20 2014, if there is one team that seems dead set to make the final four, it is Sri Lanka. When Dinesh Chandimal’s men, it seems odd to call them boys even if he insists on doing so when the ranks include the two veterans, Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene in their final tournament in this format, pitched up in Chittagong, there was an air of quiet confidence in the unit.
Of all the teams from the subcontinent, Sri Lanka is the most balanced, on paper. India has bowling concerns, Pakistan’s batting often leaves Misbah-ul-Haq playing the role of rescuer rather than batsman in the longer formats, and Bangladesh has shown it can be brittle. Sri Lanka seemingly has all bases covered.
The batting line-up has just the right mix of worker bees and outright attacking batsmen, the bowling has more variety than you will ever need in a 20-over game, the fielding is sharp and there are enough batsmen who can bowl and bowlers who can chip in with bat.
If Sri Lanka has one concern, it is the form of Tillakaratne Dilshan, who has a very specific and critical role at the top of the order. Dilshan’s job is to score runs quickly, but it does not end there. The manner in which Dilshan goes about his business typically upsets the rhythm of bowlers, forcing them to change their lines and lengths. This allows the other batsmen in the Sri Lankan line-up to get themselves in without being under pressure to attack right away. The fact that Dilshan has not got going will be on the back of Chandimal’s mind, but not enough to think about fiddling with the batting order just yet.
For Chandimal, the focus was on getting early wins under the belt to ensure that progression to the final four is in the bag. “The way our spinners bowled in the Asia Cup, they will get something from the pitches. We are in a group with teams that are not good at playing spin so we have a good chance of going through,” said Chandimal. “However we will take it match by match and our main focus is to get to the semifinal. From there onwards we will have to plan our strategies differently.”
The first hurdle for Sri Lanka is South Africa, and the two teams square off in a 3.30pm (local time) start at the Zahur Ahmed Chowdhury Stadium in Chittagong on Saturday (March 22).
South Africa has the luxury of coming into this tournament flying under the radar. Given its history in global events of this kind, South Africa has given itself a chance to simply go about its business, unconcerned with the kind of hype other teams have had to deal with.
The immediate concern for South Africa was the fitness of Dale Steyn and Faf du Plessis, both of whom are dealing with hamstring injuries. “It’s been a pretty intense week for Dale and myself trying to make sure we are 100 percent ready for the game tomorrow,” said du Plessis on the eve of the game. “As of now we are still assessing. We will both do fitness teststomorrow to see where we are. We seem to be okay.”
Du Plessis explained that he had no difficulty while batting, but that sprinting was still causing him grief. “I’m up to about 70% in terms of speed, and if I can get that up to about 90-95% by tomorrow, then I should be ok.”
South Africa will be happy to be playing in Chittagong, where the pitch has played much more true than in Dhaka. The surface at the Sher-e-Bangla Stadium in Mirpur has been slow and abrasive, with the spinners extracting considerable turn and variable bounce. Du Plessis had no such fears. “It looks a really good wicket. I was pretty surprised. There is grass on the pitch but I don’t think it will play too much of a role when it comes to sideways movement,” said du Plessis. “But I think, it will be a good deck, lot of runs, so it is nice to see. Like I said for us, it’s good to see that there is grass on the wicket.”
South Africa: Faf du Plessis (capt), Hashim Amla, Farhaan Behardien, Quinton de Kock, AB de Villiers (wk), JP Duminy, Beuran Hendricks, Imran Tahir, David Miller, Albie Morkel, Morne Morkel, Wayne Parnell, Aaron Phangiso, Dale Steyn, Lonwabo Tsotsobe.
Sri Lanka: Dinesh Chandimal (capt), Tillakaratne Dilshan, Mahela Jayawrdene, Kumar Sangakkara (wk), Kusal Perera, Lahiru Thirimanne, Angelo Mathews, Thisara Perera, Lasith Malinga, Nuwan Kulasekara, Ajantha Mendis, Sachitra Senanayake, Rangana Herath, Suranga Lakmal, Seekkuge Prasanna