Sydney, March 17: It will be a highly-charged contest between two powerful batting line-ups as former champions Sri Lanka take on superbly talented but traditional under-performers South Africa in the first quarter-final of the cricket World Cup at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) here on Wednesday.
In a quest for their maiden title, South Africa last made the semi-final in 2007. The other times they made the grade was in 1992 and 1999. The Proteas' redoubtable teams of yore have fallen at crunch matches on the biggest stage; they either failed to hold their nerves, or lady luck ran out, and once the rain washed them out.
In contrast, Sri Lanka, who lifted the title in 1996 and finished runners-up in 2007 and 2011, are known for their cool and unflinching temperament on big days.
The SCG could see a run feast because of the batting friendly track and the sheer quality of willowers on both sides. But it will be interesting to see what the bowlers come up with to hamper the party.
Both rivals will rely on their go-to man to pulverise the opponent bowlers. South Africa will bank upon batting genius-cum-skipper AB De Villiers while the Lankans would hope for another great knock from left-handed bat Kumar Sangakkara who has so far been in a league of his own with four back-to-back centuries.
The Proteas will also have the services of the left-handers like J.P. Duminy, Riley Rossouw and David Miller, who will try and bat around de Villiers and stitch the batting effort together. Lending further solidity would be the return of Faf du Plessis, who missed the game against the United Arab Emirates due to a lower-back injury.
For the islanders, it will be the veterans once again on whom the onus to score the runs will be on. Mahela Jayawardene, playing his last World Cup, and Tillakaratne Dilshan would hope to contribute substantially alongside Sangakkara.
South Africa's bowling will be led by the pacy Dale Steyn while for the Lankans, the golden-haired talisman Lasith Malinga would be the spearhead.
Nuwan Kulasekara will share the new-ball with Malinga and the likes of Thisara Perera, Seekkuge Prasanna will have a stiff challenge to rein in the marauding South African top and middle order. However, for skipper Angelo Mathews, the biggest concern is the availability to Rangana Herath, who is recovering from a finger injury.
At the other end, Vernon Philander gets to bowl upfront with Steyn before Morne Morkel comes in as a first change followed by leg-spinner Imran Tahir and Duminy. Tahir, the only spinner to take a five-wicket haul (against the West Indies) in this tournament so far could be the man to watch. He has a decent record against Sri Lanka and his overs in the middle could determine the course of the game.
On their way to the knockouts, South Africa finished second to India in Pool B losing two and winning four. The Asians too boast of the same record but were third in Pool A after co-hosts New Zealand and Australia.
For the statistically-minded, the two sides have clashed 69 times in One-Day Internationals (ODI) with Sri Lanka winning 29, one more than their rivals. There was no result in one match while the remaining one was a tie.
The Proteas though hold a slim edge over Lanka when it comes to World Cups. Out of four matches played, South Africa have won two and Sri Lanka have pocketed one while the other game was a tie.
Losing to India and Pakistan have exposed Proteas' weakness against Asian outfits which the Lankans would want to exploit. On the other hand Sri Lanka have lost to non-subcontinent sides like New Zealand and Australia which once again gives the self-belief to the Africans.
Whatsoever, it is unlikely to be a cakewalk for either.
Sri Lanka: Angelo Mathews (captain), Lahiru Thirimanne, Dushmantha Chameera, Tillakaratne Dilshan, Rangana Herath, Mahela Jayawardene, Nuwan Kulasekara, Suranga Lakmal, Lasith Malinga, Kusal Perera, Thisara Perera, Seekkuge Prasanna, Kumar Sangakkara, Sachithra Senanayake, Upul Tharanga
South Africa: AB de Villiers (captain), Hashim Amla, Kyle Abbott, Farhaan Behardien, Quinton de Kock, JP Duminy, Faf du Plessis, Imran Tahir, David Miller, Morne Morkel, Wayne Parnell, Aaron Phangiso, Vernon Philander, Rilee Rossouw, Dale Steyn.
Match starts at 9 AM IST