For the charged-up Sri Lankans, the quarterfinal against South Africa was reduced to an anti-climax after they played superbly all through the tournament. Even in a couple of defeats, they never surrendered tamely. They batted well, bowled well and excelled in the field but on Wednesday, all their hard work came to naught. Everything looked good in the morning, when Angelo Mathews won the toss and elected to bat. Strangely, Mathews and Sri Lankan think-tank opened their innings with Kusal Perera rather than Lahiru Thirimanne. Perera forgot he was playing in a knock-out game, from where they were no comebacks. If you lose, you go home and there are no options afterwards. It is on big days that mistakes have to be avoided but bringing in Kusal Perera for Thirimnne in the crunch game was a mistake especially after Thirimanne had already notched up 261 runs as an opener in this World Cup. Sri Lanka also introduced a debutant off spinner to replace Rangana Herath and in an act of verbal gamesmanship, Mathews told media that Tharindu Kaushal was a mystery spinner in the same mould as Muttiah Muralidaran. In any case, only one wicket fell in the South African innings and just as Sarfraz Ahmed had struck form for Pakistan the other day, Quinton de Kock did so for the Proteas on Wednesday. After the Sri Lanka innings’ fateful end came at 133, de Kock did the bulk of the scoring after Amla had fallen and in the company of Faf du Plessis took South Africa into the semifinals.
It was not Sri Lanka’s day at the SCG. After dishing out a commendable performance as a brave cricket side in CWC 2015, they couldn’t hold themselves together, when it mattered most. After the toss, Sri Lanka opened with Kusal Perera and Tilakaratne Dilshan. From the very start, Perera began slashing at every off side ball pitched at him and paid the price for his needless indulgence. Sensing Perera’s mood, Kyle Abbott sent him a perfect seamer that didn’t swing and found the edge of his bat. It was a sharp chance going to the first slip but Quinton de Kock brought off an out-of-the-world catch to make it 3/1 in the second over. Sri Lanka’s hero of last four matches, Kumar Sangakkara walked in to join Dilshan but he was unlucky to see the back of his famous colleague in the fifth over, when Dilshan slashed at Dale Styen and the edge was brilliantly picked up at second slip by Faf du Plessis. Dilshan had failed to get off the mark after facing 6 balls. Sangakkara found himself in a position of great responsibility at 6/2 at the end of the fifth over. After facing 11 balls at that time, Sanga had stayed without scoring. Lahiru Thirimanne struck two boundaries off Abbott in the sixth over in an attempt to get Sri Lanka going regardless. Finally, Sanga got off the mark in the seventh over but the normally fluent Sri Lankan had only scored just 2 runs off 23 deliveries at end of the 10th over in his team’s score of 35/2. In the next 5 overs, while Thirimanne pushed the team score to 50/2, Sanga was still quiet having consumed 40 balls for his 6 runs. Finally, when Imran Tahir was introduced in 16th over, Sanga got his first boundary. Afterwards, however, Thirimanne perished in the 20th over from Tahir, who induced a caught and bowled chance from Sri Lanka’s regular opener. Mahela Jayawardane joined his friend Sanga but Tahir claimed him too in the 24th over to make it 81/4 for Sri Lanka. Angelo Mathews joined Sanga and the two batsmen carried on until Sri Lanka complete 100 runs in the 29th over. At the score of 114 in the 33rd over, Mathews fell to a poor shot. With that the fight went out of Sri Lanka’s batsmen. Only Sngakkara remained with a labored 86-ball 33 that included a solitary boundary. It was so much unlike the flamboyant batsman, who was probably playing in his last international match. After Mathews’ wicket, the next three batsmen added just 2 runs and Sri Lanka slumped to 118/8. Sangakkara got desperate and he began blasting in frustration. Finally, he too fell for 45 off 96 balls and Sri Lankan innings folded at 133 in the 38th over.
For South Africa, 134 was too easy but they lost Hashim Amla early to a short and wide ball from Malinga. South Africa were benefitted from de Kock’s return to form. The opener played a stellar role in the company of Faf du Plessis and made some stunning strokes. None of the Sri Lankan bowlers could make any impression on de Kock including the duplicate Murali. Du Plessis supported his younger colleague as South Africa reached the target in the 18th over to overwhelm Sri Lanka by 9 wickets.
It was a sad way to lose a match for Sri Lanka after their mercurial performance in the league phase, when they regularly piled up 300+ scores, including in a match that they lost to Australia. They had the batting and bowling to make decisive differences on a given day but Wednesday was not one such day. Moreover, they were up against a side that didn’t want to yield anything to their opponents in the crunch game.