Captain AB de Villiers is adamant that South Africa are “not going to choke,” when they go in search of their first ever win in a Cricket World Cup knockout match against Sri Lanka in Wednesday’s Sydney quarterfinal. For a country that has for so long produced some outstandingly talented cricketers, South Africa’s failure to win a single knockout match in the competition’s history speaks volumes for the type of failures they have suffered through the years.
In the 1999 semifinals, reached after coming through a group format, South Africa needed just one run off four balls to beat Australia, but lost after a disastrous run out. Following further calamity in a miscalculation that saw them exit in 2003, they were again beaten by Australia in the semifinals in 2007. And four years ago, South Africa had just 222 to chase in order to beat New Zealand in the semifinals, but collapsed spectacularly to not even come close. Yet, De Villiers, who played in the last two World Cups, is convinced that this time will be different.
“All I can say is we're not going to choke,” he said in his pre-match press conference. "We're going to play a good game of cricket tomorrow and come out on top. Simple.”
“I don’t think it’s important to focus on what happened in the past. I believe it’s most important to be fresh as a cricket team tomorrow and to play a good game of cricket. I personally haven’t put a lot of emphasis on what happened in ’99, 2003, 2007. What’s important is that we play in the quarterfinal of the World Cup tomorrow. We can’t focus on what happened back in the day.”
One of the leading favorites coming into the competition, South Africa’s performances in the group phase have only raised doubts about their ability to perform in the biggest games. While they won four matches comfortably, they faltered badly against Pool B winners India and were also beaten by Pakistan. Both of those losses, as was the case with some of their most painful defeats of the past, came when batting second and chasing a total. De Villiers, though, does not believe the toss will play a decisive outcome against Sri Lanka at the Sydney Cricket Ground.
“It’s pretty even stats chasing and batting first,” he said. “I’m not too worried about that. Whatever happens tomorrow, we’ll just try and adjust as quickly as possible and whether we bowl first and try to run through them or if we don’t try to find a way to post a big total.”
Sri Lanka’s World Cup record stands in almost total contrast to that of their opponents. While rarely coming into tournaments with the biggest expectations, Sri Lanka have the World Cup title in 1996 to their name as well as runners-up spots in the previous two editions of the competition. They are a team that has generally been able to produce their best when it matters most. That was in evidence in what proved a crucial win over England in Pool A, when they chased down a target of 310 for the loss of a single wicket.
Not only do Sri Lanka have the most experienced team in the World Cup, but they possess a stacked batting lineup led by Kumar Sangakkara, who has just become the first cricketer to hit a century in four consecutive World Cup matches. captain Angelo Matthews believes relaxing is key to performing at their best in the quarterfinals.
“I think as a team we shouldn't put a lot of pressure on ourselves,” he said. “We just have to approach it positively and aggressively, just as we did in the last first round games. I think that when you come to the knockout stages most of the teams will think that you can't afford to do mistakes or you'll be out of the tournament.
"That kind of attitude is hard to get rid of. You have to play good cricket, back ourselves and go out there and enjoy ourselves.”
Math time: Wednesday, 2:30 p.m. local time, Tuesday, 11:30 p.m. EDT.
TV channel: DISH Network, Mediacom and Time Warner Cable subscribers can watch all matches via pay per view. More info here.
Live streaming info: South Africa vs. Sri Lanka, as well as all quarterfinals, semifinals and final will be available via ESPN's digital subscription service, costing $39.99.