Wednesday, March 18, 2015
Start time 1430 local (0330 GMT)
Is South Africa's batting exceptionally good, or is it brittle? Is Sri Lanka's bowling wily or weak? The first quarter-final features two of the more schizophrenic teams of the tournament. South Africa thrashed West Indies and Ireland, hitting two 400-plus scores on the trot. But they were outplayed by India, and were upset by Pakistan's pace. Sri Lanka have made 300 with ease four times on the run. However, against Australia and New Zealand, their bowling effectively lost them the match.
On the surface, it would appear South Africa possess the greater quality in their side. These teams last played in Sri Lanka last year, and South Africa eased past them then, inspired by major contributions from Hashim Amla, Quinton de Kock and AB de Villiers
. That 2-1 series win was all the more impressive for having come during Sri Lanka's hot streak, just after they had beaten England across all formats away from home.
Yet it is not as if South Africa far outgun their opponents. At any point in the last two years, Kumar Sangakkara
could have been said to be in the "form of his life", and that's how South Africa coach Russell Domingo referred to him two days before this match. Beyond him, Tillakaratne Dilshan, Mahela Jayawardene and Lahiru Thirimanne have all struck hundreds in the tournament. And although Lasith Malinga has lost pace in the past nine months, he has been quickly recovering the accuracy and bowling smarts that still make him an outstanding one-day bowler.
Sri Lanka will, however, miss Rangana Herath
who has not recovered from his finger injury sustained against England*. Angelo Mathews had said he was 50-50 but on the morning of the match he was ruled out. If the SCG turns out a characteristic late-season turner, Herath's control and guile through the middle overs could have tied down a South Africa middle order that has been severe on mediocre attacks this tournament.
Any knockout match South Africa plays will also be shrouded by their history of underachievement at major tournaments. South Africa appeared a happy, relaxed outfit in the approach to the game. But they are up against the side that have been least fazed by sudden-death cricket in recent years.
(last five matches, most recent first)
South Africa WLWWL
Sri Lanka WLWWW
In the spotlight
In a tournament that has been unkind to spinners, Imran Tahir
has stood out as one of the best. Having taken the only five-wicket haul by a spinner, against West Indies at the SCG, Tahir should be confident of making important breakthroughs. Sri Lanka's batsmen generally play spin very well, but in the three outings Tahir has had against them, he has been both cheap and penetrative. How Tahir goes in the middle overs may dictate how well South Africa can tie down the rampant Sri Lanka top order.
Sangakkara has lit up Sri Lanka's tournament, but every match Mahela Jayawardene
plays from now could be his final international outing. He is not the most productive Sri Lanka player any more, but to many, he is the most pleasing batsman in the team - perhaps even in the world. He has a World Cup semi-final ton as well as the World Cup final hundred from four years ago. The match against South Africa is his chance to complete the set, and produce an innings in this final phase, by which he deserves to be remembered.
Faf du Plessis has recovered from the lower back injury that kept him out against UAE. Upon his return, the major selection conundrum for South Africa is whether to play Farhaan Behardien or Rilee Rossouw. Rossouw is the more accomplished batsman although Behardien made an unbeaten 64 in the last match.
South Africa (probable) 1 Hashim Amla, 2 Quinton de Kock (wk), 3 Faf du Plessis, 4 AB de Villiers (capt), 5 JP Duminy, 6 David Miller, 7 Rilee Russouw/ Farhaan Behardien, 8 Vernon Philander, 9 Morne Morkel, 10 Dale Steyn, 11 Imran Tahir
In a late change to plans it emerged that Sri Lanka were trying to fast-track Tharindu Kaushal, the offspinner, into the squad as a replacement for Herath and it could be between him and legspinner Seekkuge Prasanna to play. They will consider playing two spinners if the SCG track demands it, but otherwise, are likely to go with the three-quicks and one frontline spinner that they employed against Scotland, with Tillakaratne Dilshan's offspin also available. Suranga Lakmal and Dushmantha Chameera are fighting for one spot, Mathews said, but Kusal Perera's firepower is likely to be preferred to Upul Tharanga's experience, in the middle order.
Sri Lanka (probable) 1 Lahiru Thirimanne, 2 Tillakaratne Dilshan, 3 Kumar Sangakkara (wk), 4 Mahela Jayawardene, 5 Kusal Perera, 6 Angelo Mathews (capt), 7 Thisara Perara, 8 Seekkuge Prasanna/ Tharindu Kaushal, 9 Nuwan Kulasekara, 10 Lasith Malinga, 11 Suranga Lakmal/ Dushmantha Chameera
Pitch and conditions
There is a small chance of rain on Wednesday, but the weather is expected to be dry enough to at least allow a shortened match. The pitch appears dry, but as Sri Lanka found out against Australia, that does not necessarily mean it will be slow or given to turn.
These teams have faced each other four times in World Cups. Sri Lanka beat South Africa in 1992. There was an 89-run win for South Africa in 1999. The teams tied after South Africa's Duckworth-Lewis meltdown in 2003. And South Africa squeaked through by one wicket in 2007. This match will feature three of the top four run scorers of the tournament, in Sangakkara, Dilshan and de Villiers. Neither team has a bowler in the top five wicket-takers.Mahela Jayawardene averages 81 in World Cup knockout encounters. He has played six such games.
"All I can say is we're not going to choke. We're just going to play a good game of cricket tomorrow and come out on top. Simple."
AB de Villiers has absolute confidence in his team's bottle
"I hope the toss isn't vital. Look, generally the wickets have been extremely good, so we've seen teams chasing 300 as well. So if a team bats first and if they get to the 300 mark the game is not yet over."
Angelo Mathews feels the toss is not necessarily vital to the outcome
*23.45GMT, March 17: This story was updated with the latest on Herath
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. @andrewffernando