South Africa now head for a semi-final against New Zealand or West Indies; Sri Lanka, after months on the road, finally go home to a new and challenging era. Neither Kumar Sangakkara nor Mahela Jayawardene will appear for them again in ODI cricket.
But here just about every aspect of the Sri Lankan game imploded after Angelo Mathews won what was supposed to be a crucial toss. The Sri Lankans gambled before that toss. They included two novices. The fast bowler, Dushmantha Chameera, had played only two ODIs before and Tharindu Kaushal – described by Mathews as a “duplicate Murali” – became only the second man to make his debut in a sudden-death World Cup match. The only other one, by the way, was Wayne Larkins in 1979. They also decided to open the batting with the maverick Kusal Perera for the first time in the tournament.
That experiment did not work. Perera kept swishing at thin air until he was caught behind off Kyle Abbott for three; then Tillakaratne Dilshan was caught at second slip off Dale Steyn for a duck. Thereafter Sangakkara, with four consecutive centuries under his belt, decided to dig in. And he just kept digging. He had one run after 22 deliveries. It took a long time for any acceleration. Sangakkara was determined to stay there come what may in the hope that someone would stay with him. Apart from a plucky effort from Lahiru Thirimanne, nobody did.
South Africa’s pacemen were highly disciplined and, when Morne Morkel had the ball in his hand, hostile. But perversely it was the South African spinners who took the majority of the wickets. The Sri Lankans are not supposed to be perplexed by this type of bowling.
Imran Tahir, so much more effective with a white ball than a red one nowadays, took four wickets. More surprisingly, JP Duminy took three from consecutive balls, a hat-trick that took some discerning since it was separated by an over from Tahir. “I think I was probably the only one in the team that knew I had taken a hat-trick,” said Duminy afterwards.
Tahir, who was man of the match, took important wickets. He snaffled a return catch to dispose of Thirimanne and then Jayawardene endured a forgettable end. He limply hit a short ball into the hands of midwicket before departing for the last time. Duminy had a hesitant Mathews caught at midwicket and it became apparent that Sangakkara was stranded. Finally he began to improvise, crunching two of the three boundaries he hit in 96 balls before being caught at third man off Morkel for 45.
South Africa’s pursuit began before supper. Hashim Amla was also caught at third man, an indication that there was pace in this pitch. But that would be Sri Lanka’s only success. The South Africans did not hang around and an additional boon for them was the fact that Quinton de Kock, out of runs throughout the pool games, hit an effervescent 78 from 57 balls. Faf du Plessis, batting with more discretion, kept him company as South Africa raced to an easy victory, which rids them of that nasty statistic. Now they have a week to contemplate their semi-final in New Zealand.
AB de Villiers, who let his team go surfing the day before the match, used a parallel from another leisure activity when contemplating the rest of the World Cup. “I spoke to Morne Morkel, who loves fishing and I said: ‘It’s almost like you’ve got the big fish on the hook and you’ve got to reel it in.’” Not quite Eric Cantona, but you can see what he means.