Finishing with a flourish?

2013-07-26 00:00

IT’s do or die for AB de Villiers and his shell-shocked Proteas ODI team today as they take on Sri Lanka in the third of five one-day internationals.

Already two-nil down — despite a somewhat better performance in the second match, where rain had the final say and the Duckworth-Lewis method found the Proteas 17 runs short of where they should have been — it’s time to produce the goods on the field.

There’s been too much talk about consistency and finding the right balance in the team, and it’s time for the team to deliver what they are paid to do — quality and competitive cricket.

The 11-match losing streak in Sri Lanka has to be broken some time, and today is as good a time as any to bash through the psychological barrier and build a new, fruitful platform.

Knowing that losing this match means the series is lost within the first three matches, De Villiers has come out with strong talk, suggesting his team perform best when they are cornered.

“We have shown we win games when we have our backs to the wall,” he said. “Perhaps the current situation could be to our advantage. In recent one-day series, we have come from behind, woken up a bit late, to charge through and finish with a strong flourish.”

Having played the first two matches in Colombo, today’s game offers hope to the Proteas as they settle in Pallekele, Kandy. Having cited the heat as a major factor for the below-par performances in Colombo, this venue offers some respite with a cool mountain breeze gracing the ground. The strip too is known to be more seamer friendly, allowing De Villiers to get more from his front-line bowlers, Chris Morris and Morné Morkel. This after spinners Aaron Phangiso and Robin Peterson did not make full use of what was available in Colombo.

At the top of the order, De Villiers will be hoping his batsmen can settle and build on their starts. No batsman has gone beyond 30 in either match and with starting batsman Hashim Amla out with injury, it’s imperative to get a solid platform from the designated batsmen.

“Not having Hashim is a big blow, but I always like to look at the positive during times like this,” the skipper said.

“This is an opportunity for the player coming in to make a play for their country. Every player in the squad is capable of winning games for South Africa.”

The incoming batsman will have to find a way to manage Lasith Malinga, with the threatening seamer having taken a wicket in the first over in both matches.

“We have had a chat on how to face Malinga a few times before, so this is not the first time it has happened.

“We have to keep it simple and stick to the basics against him. Everyone knows that the yorker is his danger ball and the guys are aware of it.”

It’s a toss up between Quinton de Kock and Colin Ingram as to who gets the opening berth with Alviro Petersen, with the former perhaps getting the nod after Ingram failed to score in his last two knocks.

For the Sri Lankans, suspended captain Angelo Matthews returns, while Lahiru Thirimanne’s thumb injury makes him a doubtful starter.

For De Villiers, it’s about the passion in his heart that he hopes to turn into something fruitful on the field.

“Yes, our batsmen need more application, but I am tired of the 11-game loss being thrown at us all the time,” he said. “I was not part of those. Not many of us were. I have played these two matches here and lost both, which is not a bad record.

“I don’t care what happened in those previous nine games. It’s unfair baggage to throw at this team. We are 0-2 down, but we are not out of the series yet.”

De Villiers said he needed his batsmen to realise they were playing 50-over cricket and bat with a Test-match mindset at the start of the innings.

“We need to get partnerships going, get used to conditions and look at the bowlers,” he said.

As for playing spin, especially Rangana Herath, who is the leading wicket taker with five to date, De Villiers said, “We’ve been lackadaisical playing him and tried to hit him too square. He is not a massive threat to us.”

Today’s match starts at 11 am.

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