Durban - Squeaky bum time does not only apply to football. A nation will hold its breath on Wednesday as the Proteas look to win their first ever knockout match at a Cricket World Cup by overcoming a Kumar Sangakkara-inspired Sri Lanka at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG). After losses to India and then Pakistan in the group stages, the Proteas now have a few more sceptics back home, who a month ago might have considered them favourites for the trophy. It will be a matter of things clicking on the day, and everybody doing their bit to secure a win.
Here are 5 factors that could prove key:
There has been more talk over the Proteas’ team selection than any other side at the tournament. Getting the balance right on Wednesday will be crucial. The No 7 spot has been a particular area of concern. It appears that the out of form Quinton de Kock will retain his place in the side, while Vernon Philander is set to once again edge out Kyle Abbott. A fit again Faf du Plessis would see Farhaan Behardien lose his place, meaning that the Proteas go into the match with seven specialist batsmen. There might also be a temptation to open the innings with Rilee Rossouw and move De Kock down to No 7. The bowling attack picks itself, but how the Proteas decide to set up their batting line-up could have a major impact.
2. AB CAN’T DO IT ALONE
Whether they set a target or chase, the Proteas can have no excuse for another batting collapse with seven specialist batsmen. AB de Villiers cannot win this tournament by himself, and the other batsmen will have to come to the party. David Miller and JP Duminy will be crucial in the middle order, and their finishing abilities are likely to be needed now more than ever. If De Kock opens and fails again, then Hashim Amla’s role once again becomes all the more important. Whichever way you look at it, somebody other than De Villiers will need to pull their weight with a telling contribution.
3. THE TOSS
The statistics do not work in South Africa’s favour when chasing. Over the last four years they have won just three of the 13 ODIs in which they have had to chase 240 or more. That is a scary prospect given Sri Lanka’s batting prowess. De Villiers will surely make first use of what is expected to be a flat Sydney wicket if he wins the toss, but so will the Lankans. If ever there was a time for the Proteas to step up and show that they have the ability to chase down respectable totals, it is now.
4. KUMAR SANGAKKARA
It is seldom a good idea to focus on just one player in an opposition line-up, but Sangakkara’s run of form at the moment is simply too good to ignore. The 37-year-old veteran is in the touch of his life, having notched up a record four successive centuries at the tournament. His wicket will be prized above all others, and the Proteas will need to get him early if they are to restrict Sri Lanka’s total. As Russell Domingo pointed out this week, though, there are other players in the Lankan side capable of being match winners. Still, getting Sangakkara cheaply could be half the battle won.
5. STEYN POWER
South Africa’s main man with ball in hand has had a largely subdued tournament. Lacking a yard of pace and not swinging the ball as much as he’d like, Steyn knows that the country expects more of him. The good news is that he is a player who thrives under pressure, and there can be no greater pressure situation than the one the Proteas currently find themselves in. He’ll be as pumped as ever, with that familiar devilish look in his eyes, but the Proteas will need more from Steyn on Wednesday. He could be particularly lethal if the Proteas set a score and Sri Lanka have to face him under the Sydney lights.