AB de Villiers will still play many ODI games in his cricket career but even if they were to go all the way and win the World Cup, the performance by his team over Sri Lanka will forever be remembered as “that” match when it all came together almost perfectly.
I say “almost” because the only hiccup was that Hashim Amla got out and the eventual win was only by nine wickets and not the full deck.
The decision to keep Quinton de Kock proved to be a good one. Many pundits called for a change including myself. He would arrived at the famous SCG thinking and hoping that somehow it could turn for him and it did. The bus-ride back to the hotel must have been a really pleasant one. The fact that he spent some time in the middle could not have come at a better time for South Africa. It never ceases to amaze me how a player can be so out of touch and in a space of just a few overs it can all turn around.
The bowling department was where it all happened. In the build-up the speculation as to who would fill the seventh spot was rife. However, it became a non-entity as soon as de Kock was selected and Vernon Philander wasn’t fit. There is no doubt that Kyle Abbot did more than enough to retain his place going forward. He adds pace and swing to the mix and his length was just so good.
Right from the outset the mindset of South Africa was to take wickets. That was very evident as Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel ran it with purpose and aggression. It set the tone and placed enormous pressure on the batsmen. Once they had the initial breakthrough it really became a question of them playing the survival game. Morne Morkel was brilliant in using the extra bounce he gets and zoned in on the Sri Lankan captain Angelo Matthews so accurately that it made a serious statement to those still sitting in the change-room that batting against him is not for the feint-hearted!
The introduction of the spinners was done at the correct time and that helped the cause even more. I for one was critical of their use too early against Pakistan. It seemed as if they were attempting to get through the fifth and six bowler options in that match. This time it looked as if they were intent of taking wickets too. The field-placing was set for JP Duminy was picture-perfect. All subcontinent teams tend to play against spin well and every time as a spinner that you are successful against them, it creates loads of confidence and JP Duminy getting a hat-trick will have set him up for a long time to come. Suddenly, he will also see himself not as a part-timer but as an attacking option. Imran Tahir was again the bowler who made the critical break-through and kept the pressure going with very few loose deliveries.
The fielding also needs a mention in the same breath as the bowling. It was superb and contributed so much to keeping constant pressure on Kumar Sangakarra. So many shots were played directly to inner-ring fielders and that speaks to the pre-match preparation being done well. Batsmen are creatures of habit. They tend to hit balls in the same area regularly and the secret is to get them to play differently when under pressure. That’s when opportunities arise. Good field-placings are so much a part of that process.
An enormous amount of credit needs to go to AB de Villiers for his captaincy. The right bowling changes were made, the angles that he had his fielders in for each batsmen were correct and the tempo of the game when fielding allowed him time to stay settled and in control. What more can one ask for from the captain. For once he didn’t bat, bowl or even take a catch!
Looking ahead to the next game, whoever it may be, AB de Villiers and his charges will now know that if they get it right, beating them is going to be a tough job. They may have thought it but now they know it. The way they demolished Sri Lanka, who had been also running hot for a while, will also have sent a powerful message to the others that the South Africans are running into good form and have momentum.
I can’t help thinking that the depth in the batting and the quality in the bowling in this team is more than the other teams still left in competition. It’s now going to come down to “who can deal with the pressure best” that goes with the challenge of winning a World Cup.