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Andrew Fernando in Hambantota
September 21, 2012
If cricket was science fiction, contests between Sri Lanka and South Africa might be characterised as tussles between Ewoks and Vulcans.
One side is almost cute. Their emphasis on the "Sri Lankan brand of cricket" is fuzzy, and their insistence on allowing bowlers to be themselves no matter how strange, is charmingly different. South Africa meanwhile are efficiency personified. There is little room for sentiment in their outfit and it is all the more formidable because of it. They have developed some of the best players in the world, and know the science of getting everything out of them.
This difference in philosophies is made all the more stark by the teams' varying strengths. Sri Lanka's attack is dripping with x-factor, but there is also brittleness about it. South Africa's bowlers however, are precise and consistent. Sri Lanka revel in spin, whether producing it or playing it, but South Africa are masters of pace, seam and bounce; a brutal art for a dauntless team.
Saturday's encounter between two of the tournament favourites might be a case of who can exploit the other's weakness better. Ajantha Mendis and Jeevan Mendis shared nine Zimbabwe wickets between them, in Sri Lanka's 84-run drubbing of Zimbabwe, then South Africa's pace quartet reaped eight scalps from the same team two nights later. Mahela Jayawardene alluded to South Africa's perceived weakness against spin when he cited their "inexperienced middle order" ahead of the match, and Sri Lanka's troubles against quality pace bowling are well known - even if they have improved in that regard lately.
South Africa are aware they will have to play Ajantha Mendis on the same surface he took a world record 6 for 8 only four days ago, but captain AB de Villiers said his side know plenty about him and are far from intimidated.
"A guy like Mendis is a world class bowler and when he's going well he will always pick up wickets," he said. "But we've seen him perform under pressure and seen him break down under pressure as well. So hopefully, we can get the upper hand against him and not let him bowl to us."
The pitch will play a significant role. The surface on which South Africa demolished Zimbabwe was perhaps the liveliest of the tournament so far, but the strip that will be used on Saturday also had plenty in it for the seamers.
"I was expecting the pitch to bounce a bit, but not as much as it did against Zimbabwe. I was surprised that pitch didn't really take turn. I'm certainly expecting it to turn a bit more when we play Sri Lanka."
Both teams are through to Super Eights, which means the result of this game only becomes relevant in the event of a tie at the end of the next phase. Each captain conceded they will be tempted to test out their bench strength for the effective dead rubber, but de Villiers stressed that it was more than just a warm up for the matches to come.
"I don't think there will be any drop in intensity for the Sri Lanka game," de Villiers said. "We're in the beginning stages of a very, very big event, a tournament that we really want to win. You have to play well in every game and improve in every game. Sri Lanka are the home team and we're probably underdogs. We'll try and gain some momentum out of the game."
Sri Lanka may also like to give Akila Dananjaya a chance to prove his talent at international level. If he plays alongside Ajantha Mendis and Lasith Malinga, Sri Lanka's attack will be a showcase of the weird. The Ewoks will hope to hoodwink their opponents into crashing their hovercraft into trees, but if the Vulcans have their way, the script will be clean and predictable but no less impressive.
Andrew Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's correspondent in Sri LankaFeeds: Andrew Fidel Fernando
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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