South Africa ponder balance for crucial game

South Africa are debating whether to play an extra batsman or bowler ahead of their clash with Sri Lanka in the Champions Trophy on Tuesday at Ahmedabad. The match is a crucial one for South Africa's chances of qualifying for the semi-finals, having lost their opening match to New Zealand by 87 runs.

Mickey Arthur, South Africa's coach, said they were considering one change in the team that played the Kiwis, possibly bringing in AB de Villiers. "The decision we have to take is whether we want to play an extra batsman or a bowler. We had an extra bowler against New Zealand. Maybe there will be a change in strategy. If we decide on an extra batsman, de Villiers will regain his place. We should make a final decision by Monday afternoon after taking another look at the wicket."

Andrew Hall, one of South Africa's leading bowlers in ODIs, a specialist death overs bowler and generally a versatile allrounder, is thought likely to lose out in case such a decision is taken. Whatever the combination, Arthur acknowledged that their remaining two games - they play Pakistan on Friday - are pressure-laden must-win matches. "From now on every match is a knockout match." He added: "There is a lot of pressure on us after we were disappointing in every aspect of the game against New Zealand. But international cricket and pressure go hand in hand and this is nothing new to us."

And though his captain, Graeme Smith, didn't hesitate in lashing out at the crumbling Brabourne pitch on which they collapsed, Arthur refused to criticise the conditions. "We can't blame the pitch and the conditions for our defeat last week. We expect conditions to be similar to this when we play in the World Cup tournament in the West Indies next year. That is why good performances here are important."

That pitch was one Sri Lanka would've thrived on; Smith even mistakenly said in the post-match press conference that Sri Lanka, and not New Zealand, had played well. But the form Sri Lanka have been in recently - one loss in 12 games - pitches rarely come into the equation. And Arthur praised the experience and balance the current team possesses.

"With players such as Mahela Jayawardene, Sanath Jayasuriya, Kumar Sangakkara, Marvan Atapattu, Chaminda Vaas and Muttiah Muralitharan they are very experienced.

"They also have a flexible batting line-up. They rely on Jayasuriya and Upul Tharanga to lay the foundation and expect Mahela to build upon it. Their bowling has great variety. Vaas is a left-hander who swings the ball, Lasith Malinga is a fast strike bowler with a strange action, Murali an off-break bowler, Jayasuriya a left-arm spinner and they also have Farveez Maharoof, who puts the ball in the right places."

And if there was any doubt about how important this match is for South Africans, wicketkeeper Mark Boucher quickly dispelled them. Referring to the infamous 'Chicken' headlines in Sri Lankan papers when South Africa pulled out of a tri-series tournament there in August for security reasons after two bomb explosions, Boucher said, "For those of us who bore the brunt of the criticism in the Sri Lankan media, this is a big one. They called us cowards and therefore some of the guys are really looking forward to this match.

"We hold nothing against their players but would like to show the newspapers a thing or two. What they reported was unfair and ill-considered and we would like to give them something proper to write about."