Nearly men kick off nearly tournament
Match factsTuesday, September 22, 2009
Start time 1430 (1230 GMT)
Lack of choices can be a blessing in disguise. Hence we have potentially the best event organised by the ICC in a long while. Not entirely by design, though: there was no window for a longer tournament, there isn't even a reserve day for the final. So there was no space for flab or Super Sixes or Eights or whatever. Although Bangladesh can argue they had a better case than West Indies, few could have envisaged the political turmoil in the Caribbean when the tournament was being drawn up. As a result the preliminary groups are neither meaningless cakewalks nor so fickle that one freak loss ends the tournament for a team. Throw in the fact that the top three teams are so close to each other, the No. 1 ranking is likely to change hands more often in this tournament than the baton in a relay race. So good on the ODIs, which could do with this shot in the arm.
It helps that South Africa has been the setting for memorable starts to world events. In the first match of the 2003 World Cup, Brian Lara's century helped West Indies beat South Africa by three runs in a tense finish. Four years later the ICC went to South Africa unsure if the World Twenty20 would be accepted by the audience. The same two teams, in 37.4 overs, hit all such trepidations out of the Wanderers. The possibility of an exact repeat has been ruled out by the draw, which pits Sri Lanka opening the tournament against the hosts, but a similar start is needed.
Both players in the act on Tuesday run the risk of becoming perennial best men: both have been consistent limited-overs teams for large parts of last 15 years, but only two players in each team have tasted success in an ICC event (excluding the 2002 Champions Trophy, which they shared with India): Sanath Jayasuriya and Muttiah Muralitharan won the 1996 World Cup, and Mark Boucher and Jacques Kallis won the inaugural Champions Trophy in 1998.
Since then South Africa have lost two World Cup semi-finals, one World Twenty20 semi-final, and three Champions Trophy semi-finals. Sri Lanka haven't been that consistent, but they too have lost a World Cup final and semi-final each, a World Twenty20 final, and shared a Champions Trophy final.
Not much has changed on that front: this is another best chance for South Africa to shrug off the chokers' tag, and although Sri Lanka are not starting off as favourites it would be folly to underestimate them. So let the nearly men kick the nearly tournament off.
(last five matches, most recent first)
South Africa - LWWWL
Forget their record in big tournaments, this is indeed South Africa's best chance in a big tournament. They are the most settled team among the eight, Australia are not what they used to be - their 6-1 win in England notwithstanding - and others generally have more issues to settle than the hosts. They last played an international match back in April. Will they be rested or rusty?
Sri Lanka - LWWLL
A new-look team trying to bring together mavericks, team players and veterans makes for interesting following. Their No. 5 ranking in ODIs should not prompt other teams to let their guard down.
Smith has confirmed Hashim Amla will open with him in Gibbs' absence due to a rib injury that has ruled him out of the first match. It probably won't hurt the middle order, which looks settled - only Albie Morkel and Mark Boucher could be needed earlier than usual. The most likely to sit out are Robin Peterson and Lonwabo Tsotsobe. Expect a toss-up between Roelof van der Merwe and Wayne Parnell for the final position.
South Africa (probable) 1 Graeme Smith (capt), 2 Hashim Amla, 3 Jacques Kallis, 4 AB de Villiers, 5 JP Duminy, 6 Mark Boucher (wk), 7 Albie Morkel, 8 Roelof van der Merwe/Wayne Parnell, 9 Johan Botha, 10 Makhaya Ntini, 11 Dale Steyn.
Murali should be fit to take the field now. After the tri-series final that Sri Lanka lost to India, Sangakkara had said Murali was fit but they didn't want to risk him before the Champions Trophy. Whose place will he take if he plays is an interesting question. Unless it is a rank turner, Ajantha Mendis should be the man most likely to sit out.
Sri Lanka (probable) 1 Sanath Jayasuriya, 2 Tillakaratne Dilshan, 3 Kumar Sangakkara (capt/wk), 4 Mahela Jayawardene, 5 Thilina Kandamby, 6 Chamara Kapugedera, 7 Angelo Mathews, 8 Thilan Thushara, 9 Nuwan Kulasekara, 10 Muttiah Muralitharan, 11 Lasith Malinga.
Watch out for...
Dale Steyn has stated what the world knows in its heart of hearts but is not so convinced about when it comes to big tournaments. "If the team play to their potential, and this might sound cocky, I really believe no side can match us at the Champions Trophy." The world is waiting, Dale, for the "team to play to their potential".
Nuwan Kulasekara quietly became the No. 1 bowler in ODIs without many noticing, and has kept the ranking for some time now. Now he will be tested in the open and, if the conditions help swing, his accuracy, inswingers, and the odd one that goes straight could just confirm the ICC rankings.
Graeme Smith has not shied from making statements for his team, and on the first day of the tournament, with regular co-opener Herschelle Gibbs out, his team needs the leader in the front.
Kumar Sangakkara the captain has been conspicuous in trying to bring a hard edge to his skilled team, but Sangakkara the batsman last scored an ODI century in June 2008, against Bangladesh. Sri Lanka won't mind a reconciliation of the two Sangakkaras.
Stats and trivia
- South Africa have a 5-1 lead in matches against Sri Lanka in ICC events. They lost to Sri Lanka in the 1992 World Cup, and tied with them in 2003, but have won all other encounters.
- Murali, with 23 wickets, is the highest wicket-taker in Champions Trophy history.
- Sangakkara, with 22 catches and four stumpings, leads the dismissals table for wicketkeepers.
"Our team has a lot of variety. We have got a left-armer, we have got pace, we have got allrounders and we have got spin. It is nice as a captain to have so many options."
Graeme Smith likes what he sees when he casts an eye over South Africa's squad.
"A game's a game and it doesn't matter who the opposition is. But it's nice, because we've come here as underdogs in this game and they [South Africa] have got a major tournament to start, to kick off in front of their fans and the pressure is really on them."
Kumar Sangakkara plays a mind game or three.
Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo