An African derby in Hambantota
Match factsSeptember 20, 2012
Start time 1930 local (1400 GMT)
Hambantota will play host to an African derby as tournament favourites South Africa begin another campaign for major silverware, this time against neighbours Zimbabwe. AB de Villiers' men probably could not have asked for a gentler easing in and will view this match as the beginning of a journey that they hope will end on October 7 in Colombo, with a trophy.
Despite some in the South Africa team being on the road since June, they showed no signs of homesickness and most were delighted to be in the island nation. De Villiers posted photographs of the air-force helicopter the team travelled in and Dale Steyn and Lonwabo Tsotsobe put up pictures of the beach in Hambantota.
They have found ways of keeping themselves fresh, a small sign that mindset has changed under Gary Kirsten. South Africa have made promises that they are ready to perform under pressure and that, more than ability with bat and ball will be under scrutiny.
Knowing that mind games have been used successfully against South Africa in the past, Zimbabwe will look to make the most out of their victory in the unofficial tri-series in June where they beat a South African side in the final.
Expect words on the field from Zimbabwe, who will be more motivated by who their opposition is than the context in which this match is played. Their flights to Harare are probably booked and boarding passes waiting to be stamped but Zimbabwe will want to make a point before boarding.
Brendan Taylor was visibly and verbally disappointed with Zimbabwe's performance against Sri Lanka. "We are a better side than that," he said. His team will want to prove the captain right.
Form guide (last 5 completed matches, most recent first)South Africa LWWWW
Watch out forHe has been dubbed the man that will change South Africa's fortunes at a major tournament and if AB de Villiers is able to do that, he will be hailed as more than a hero. With the responsibility of holding the batting line-up together, wicketkeeping and leading the side, De Villiers will have more to think about at first, but the silverware will be on his mind.
Sri Lanka's batsmen found it difficult to pick Zimbabwe legspinner Graeme Cremer and he finished as their most successful bowler. With a well-disguised googly and a good arm-ball, Cremer also has the right attitude of aggression for his role. He is well used in the middle overs and could be a challenge for the likes of JP Duminy.
Team newsSouth Africa's squad has been hit with a tummy bug. AB de Villiers, Hashim Amla and Jacques Kallis did not train but they have all been declared fit to play. They are also waiting on Albie Morkel to make a decision about their final XI. Morkel sustained lower back spasms in the warm-up match against New Zealand and was taken for MRI scan which was inconclusive in its results. He will have a fitness test on Thursday morning. If he cannot play, it could open up a spot for either Faf du Plessis, who will likely miss out on a batting role in the top order or Wayne Parnell, if South Africa opt for an extra seamer.
South Africa's batting line-up will be flexible with their top order still undecided except the opening combination of two Wynberg Boys alumini - Jacques Kallis and Richard Levi. Both Johan Botha and Robin Peterson are expected to play and they could resort back to their default bowling pair of Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel, meaning no space for Lonwabo Tsotsobe.
South Africa (probable): 1 Richard Levi, 2 Jacques Kallis, 3 Hashim Amla, 4 AB de Villiers, 5 JP Duminy, 6 Justin Ontong, 7 Faf du Plessis/Wayne Parnell/Albie Morkel, 8 Johan Botha, 9 Robin Peterson, 10 Morne Morkel, 11 Dale Steyn
Zimbabwe's seamers came undone against Sri Lanka, which may tempt them into using an additional spinner. They had both Cremer and Prosper Utseya in action on Tuesday and could add Ray Price to the XI, in place of Chris Mpofu. With even less to lose than they had at the start of the competition, death bowling specialist Richard Muzhange could make his debut. Malcolm Waller may have to pay for a match in which he dropped two catches and made a duck and Stuart Matsikenyeri could be brought in to bolster the batting.
Zimbabwe (probable): 1 Hamilton Masakadza, 2 Vusi Sibanda, 3 Brendan Taylor, 4 Craig Ervine, 5 Stuart Matsikenyeri, 6 Elton Chigumbura, 7 Prosper Utseya, 8 Graeme Cremer, 9 Richard Muzhange, 10 Kyle Jarvis, 11 Ray Price/Brian Vitori
Pitch and conditionsAlthough talked up as a seamer-friendly surface, the Hambantota pitch offered almost nothing. It was slow and lifeless, did not have pace or turn and the bowlers had to rely on movement through the air, or in Ajantha Mendis' case, variations to cause problems. Batsmen found the going tough at first but run-scoring became easier as they spent more time at the crease. The skies may be watched more than the ground though. Rain is predicted for Thursday evening.
Stats and trivia
- South Africa and Pakistan are joint-second on the list of teams who have won the most consecutive T20s. Both have a string of seven victories, the same number as the maximum amount of matches the finalists will play in this edition of the competition. England and Ireland have had runs of eight wins.
- Zimbabwe have lost their last 13 T20 matches
Quotes"Zimbabwe are a proud country and a proud team. They will want to improve on their performance yesterday. Whatever they bring to the party, obviously, we just need to be better than them."
Hashim Amla was in the South African XI that lost in an unofficial series final to Zimbabwe
"We're more familiar with the South African set up and we know what they're all about. They are a quality team. We do rely heavily on our top four so we need them to fire and also for some of the others to kick on so that we can chase down totals and post big ones."
Brendan Taylor hopes Zimbabwe will be stronger against South Africa, if only because they know them.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.