World Cup Quarter Finals: South Africa out to shed unwanted tag in Sri Lanka showdown
SYDNEY - South Africa have a chance to finally shed their reputation as one of the most mentally fragile teams in international sport when they take on Sri Lanka in what should be a tight World Cup quarter-final on Wednesday.
The Proteas boast the number one ranked batsman in world cricket in skipper AB de Villiers, while elegant Sri Lanka lefthander Kumar Sangakkara's four successive centuries make him the form batsman of the tournament.
Neither side has had the bowling performances they had hoped for so far but both are expecting key interventions from their top pacemen in the knockout stages, Dale Steyn for South Africa and Lasith Malinga for Sri Lanka.
Both showed good form in the pool stage but lost two of their six games, while their record against each other in one-day internationals is well balanced with Sri Lanka just ahead on 29 wins to 28 for South Africa.
Where Sri Lanka have a clear edge, however, is in the World Cup record books.
Champions in 1996 and finalists in the 2007 and 2011 tournaments, the islanders have shown the ability to hit form at the right time and flourish in the pressure of the knockout stage.
South Africa, by contrast, have lived with the "chokers" tag for many years now and defeat at the Sydney Cricket Ground on Wednesday will trigger another bout of soul-searching back home.
It was at the SCG that the South Africans bowed out of their first World Cup in 1992 after the victory target revision in the wake of rain disruption condemned them to defeat against England.
Their exits since have been a mixture of mistakes -- Herschelle Gibbs "dropping the World Cup" in 1999 -- high farce -- Shaun Pollock miscalculating the victory target in 2003 -- and simply being outplayed -- against Australia in 2007.
On paper, the 2015 side is the equal of any of their predecessors and, it appears, the biggest threat to them winning a first knockout match at a World Cup is themselves.
Sri Lanka know that and will take any opportunity they have to ramp up the pressure, especially if skipper Angelo Mathews wins the toss.
Muttiah Muralitharan's simple advice to his compatriots was "win the toss and do not get too hung up thinking about AB de Villiers".
Unless there is cloud cover over the SCG, and the weather forecast indicates there will not be, both sides are likely to follow the spin-bowling great's advice and bat first.
South Africa lost to both India and Pakistan in the pool stage batting second, as did Sri Lanka against New Zealand and Australia, and they have concerns over the form of opener Quinton de Kock.
With Hashim Amla at the top of the order and Faf du Plessis fit again after a back problem, though, South Africa have enough batting to carry one out-of-form player even before you consider the carnage de Villiers can wreak on his day.
Sri Lanka's top order, which also features Mahela Jayawardene and Tillakaratne Dilshan, have carried them through to the last eight and they have managed well enough without frontline spinner Rangana Herath, who remains an injury doubt, for their last two matches.
Fans of Sri Lanka's World Cup cricket team cheer on their batsmen during their Cricket World Cup match against Bangladesh at the MCG in Melbourne, February 26, 2015.
Captain: AB de Villiers
Coach: Russell Domingo
Squad: AB de Villiers, 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.
Results so far at 2015 World Cup (P6 W4 L2):
Beat Zimbabwe by 62 runs. (David Miller and JP Duminy starred in a record 256-run fifth wicket stand to sink Zimbabwe)
Lost to India by 130 runs. (Could not contain India's top order and imploded while chasing)
Beat West Indies by 257 runs. (De Villiers blasted a 66-ball 162 not out and they shot out West Indies in 34th over)
Beat Ireland by 201 runs. (Centuries by Amla and Du Plessis set the tone for another huge win)
Lost to Pakistan by 29 runs (D/L method). (Bowled out Pakistan in 47th over but faltered in chase)
Beat UAE by 146 runs. (Solid middle order batting laid foundation for easy win)
AB de Villiers (417 runs): Enhanced his 360-degree batting reputation with scintillating shot-making. Third in the run-getters' list with a mind-boggling 144-plus strike rate.
Morne Morkel (13 wickets): Outshone pace colleague Dale Steyn, generating disconcerting bounce from lively pitches to trouble opponents.
Key to beating Sri Lanka: Will need to negate Kumar Sangakkara's red-hot form and see through Lasith Malinga's tricky overs.
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Captain: Angelo Mathews
Coach: Marvan Atapattu
Squad: Mathews, Tillakaratne Dilshan, Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene, Kusal Perera, Lahiru Thirimanne, Thisara Perera, Upul Tharanga, Sachithra Senanayake, Rangana Herath, Lasith Malinga, Nuwan Kulasekara, Suranga Lakmal, Dushmantha Chameera, Seekkuge Prasanna.
Results so far at 2015 World Cup (P6 W4 L2):
Lost to New Zealand by 98 runs. (Blown away by breezy knocks from Brendon McCullum and Corey Anderson)
Beat Afghanistan by four wickets. (Jayawardene century helps them escape a potential upset)
Beat Bangladesh by 92 runs. (Centuries by Dilshan and Sangakkara set up big win)
Beat England by nine wickets. (Sangakkara and Thirimanne hit tons to chase down a 300-plus target with ease)
Lost to Australia by 64 runs. (Glenn Maxwell's 53-ball 102 trumps Sangakkara ton)
Beat Scotland by 148 runs. (Sangakkara and Dilshan hit tons in facile win)
Kumar Sangakkara (496 runs): Became the first batsman to hit four successive World Cup centuries and looks unstoppable.
Lasith Malinga (11 wickets): Getting better with every match while sending down toe-crushing yorkers and slow bouncers with characteristic regularity.
Key to beating South Africa: Need to contain AB de Villiers and bat around Sangakkara.
South Africa v Sri Lanka head-to-head:
Total Played: 59 (South Africa won 28, Sri Lanka won 29, tied 1, no result 1)
Never faced each other at the SCG
Last match: South Africa beat Sri Lanka by 82 runs at Hambantota on July 12, 2014. - Reuters