There are times when the pressure of a cricket match is so unbearable that even the most experienced of players wilt. A champion fast bowler may rush in to the bowling crease, adrenaline pumping, and send down a length ball that disappears out of the ground when he was actually looking for a perfect yorker. A seasoned batsman who has been there and done it, might look the simplest full-toss in the eye and hit it straight to the lone fielder in the deep. Pressure.
Professional sportsmen spend their entire lives finding ways to deal with pressure. They talk for hours with coaches, they pick the brains of cricketers of yesteryear, they have sessions with psychologists. But 22 cricketers will have the exact opposite problem when they take the field at the Feroz Shah Kotla in New Delhi on Monday (March 28).
Sri Lanka come crashing down from their high-intensity potboiler of a match against England, while South Africa, who would’ve been chewing their nails watching that very encounter on television, have just as little at stake. When Sri Lanka lost to England by 10 runs, the fate of South Africa was sealed, robbing the Group 1 encounter between the two teams of any real context or intensity.
Yet, as professional cricketers, they must pick themselves up, and perform. As professional entertainers, the show must go on, for tickets have been sold and television slots booked.
Sri Lanka’s first decision is an easy one. Angelo Matthews, who injured his right hamstring in the course of his heroic unbeaten 54-ball 73 against England, will sit the game out. This means that Shehan Jayasuriya, the left-hand batsman, should get another opportunity at the highest level. Jayasuriya was in the playing eleven for Sri Lanka’s match against Afghanistan, but did not bat. In all, he has played ten T20 Internationals, and is yet to make a half-century.
The other doubt for Sri Lanka was Dushmantha Chameera who had to take quick evasive action when Jos Buttler drilled a hard return catch at him. The ball went off hand and chest, and although Chameera bravely continued bowling, the management would not want to risk aggravating the injury.
South Africa are in a similar boat, having contrived to both fail to defend big totals and to chase modest ones. Hashim Amla conceded that it was possible for teams coming into a big tournament such the ICC World Twenty20 2016 in slightly different conditions and make some mistakes. “The biggest thing we have tried to do as a team, and sometimes got it wrong, is try and assess conditions as soon as possible. You then have to try and play accordingly,” said Amla. “In the last game in particular, because the wicket was very slow and difficult to bat, a score like 135 was probably a winning total. We probably aimed for too many and then ended up short of that.”
Jeffrey Vandersay, the Sri Lankan legspinner trying to make a name for himself at the highest level, certainly did not look at the South Africa match as one with nothing at stake. Given that Sri Lanka are a side in transition, every young player has a chance to stake a claim, and this excitement reflected in Vandersay’s words. “Though we are out of the competition, we will fight hard,” he said. “That’s the Sri Lankan spirit. We will not take things lightly and we will play to win.”
If both teams can come out and do that on Monday, and at lease provide a spectacle, they would give their respective fans some much needed consolation after disappointing World T20 campaigns.
Sri Lanka: Dinesh Chandimal (wk, capt), Tillakaratne Dilshan, Lahiru Thirimanne, Chamara Kapugedara, Malinda Siriwardana, Shehan Jayasuriya, Thisara Perera, Nuwan Kulasekara, Rangana Herath, Jeffrey Vandersay, Dushmantha Chameera/Suranga Lakmal.
South Africa: Quinton de Kock (wk), Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers, Faf du Plessis (capt), JP Duminy, David Miller/Farhaan Behardien, Chris Morris, Kyle Abbott, David Wiese, Kagiso Rabada, Imran Tahir.