South Africa survive Malinga's menacing spell
48.2 overs South Africa 212 for 9 (Kallis 86, Smith 59, Malinga 4-54) beat Sri Lanka 209 (Dilshan 58, Arnold 50, Langeveldt 5-39) by one wicket
An extraordinary spell of fast bowling from Lasith Malinga, where he strung together a devastating sequence of four wickets in four balls, threatened to produce the greatest one-day heist before South Africa scrambled to a dramatic one-wicket victory in a heart-stopping Super Eights clash in Guyana.
South Africa needed a meagre four runs to win with five wickets in hand when Malinga finished batsmen as if swatting flies. He fooled Shaun Pollock with a beauty of a slower ball before hurrying Andrew Hall with a juddering yorker that looped up to cover. The first ball of the next over produced the hat-trick, the fifth in World Cups, when the set Jacques Kallis nicked to the wicketkeeper before a brute of a yorker zoomed past Makhaya Ntini.
No bowler in one-day history has managed four in four - Saqlain Mushtaq has managed four in five - and Malinga took Sri Lanka to the brink of an outrageous day-light robbery. Robin Peterson and Charl Langeveldt survived a nervy 11 deliveries before a thick outside edge flew off Peterson's bat to seal the deal. South Africa have laughed off the tag of 'chokers' but they were a hairsbreadth away from out-doing their previous stumblings. Sri Lanka made far too many mistakes but the fact that they got so close was a testament to their depth and variety.
Malinga's burst overshadowed the first five-wicket haul of the tournament - Langeveldt's 5 for 39 which restricted Sri Lanka. South Africa had adjusted smartly to the slow, spongy pitch at the brand new Providence Stadium. The conditions were far removed from St Kitts, where South Africa were based during the first round. At Providence, the ground was much larger, the pitch slower, and batsmen relied on nudges rather than lofts. The conditions should have suited Sri Lanka but poor shot selection from the top order and reckless slogs from the tail pegged them back. South Africa's seamers, led by the skiddy Langeveldt, turned in an efficient performance under gloomy skies before Graeme Smith and Kallis steered the run-chase with contrasting half-centuries.
Sri Lanka came desperately close and will no doubt rue the missed half-chances: two tough catches off Kallis went to ground, once when he was on six and another on 75, when Malinga fluffed a low return catch. Strange as it may sound, Malinga was the most erratic bowler on the day, conceding close to six an over, and missed two direct hits as well. Mahela Jayawardene's decision at the toss probably backfired - the sun was out later in the afternoon and the pitch somewhat eased up - but his decision to hold back Muralitharan, and then not keep more fielders in the ring during the final stages, were critical to the outcome. His decision to delay the third Powerplay till the 44th over nearly came off but that was only owing to Malinga's unexpected spell.
Smith set the pace before Kallis prodded them to victory. Smith's aggression blended well with Kallis's graft. While one bullied the bowlers with a combination of jabs, punches and cover-drives, the other thwarted through taps, glides and blocks. Of Smith's 59, 38 came off Malinga and Farveez Maharoof, the most wayward bowlers in the early part. Of Kallis's 86, 56 came in singles. One reeked urgency; the other absorbed pressure.
Murali broke the 94-run stand between Smith and Kallis before returning to remove Herschelle Gibbs and Mark Boucher off successive deliveries. He teased from around the wicket and varied the turn. His deceived Smith and Gibbs in the flight, one couldn't get his back foot back in time while the other bobbed a return catch, before outwitting Boucher with a quick offbreak, one that was angled from around the wicket, pitched on off and turned fatally. If South Africa thought that double-blow was rattling, what was to follow nearly stunned them.
Sri Lanka will also rue the poor batting display. If one discounts Sanath Jayasuriya's 27-ball 26 at the start, the game, for most part, meandered along at a lethargic pace. Upul Tharanga fell early, poking at an angled delivery from Ntini, but it was the dismissals of Jayasuriya, Kumar Sangakkara and Chamara Silva that had them struggling. Jayasuriya slashed indiscreetly, Sangakkara edged a short one down the leg side while Silva, while going for a non-existent single, was undone by an exceptional run-out from Gibbs.
Tillakaratne Dilshan and Russel Arnold cobbled together 97 in a revival stand but Sri Lanka's tail-end collapse almost rivalled South Africa's. From 194 for 5 they crumbled to 209 with their lower-order batsmen holing out in the deep. It was less dramatic a capitulation, compared to Malinga's blitz at the end, but proved to be the more costly at the end of the day.
Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is staff writer of Cricinfo