Sri Lanka’s resurgent performance against England, a brilliant upset that created a huge dogfight for the fourth qualification spot at this Cricket World Cup, was unfortunately followed by very mediocre performance against South Africa. Hosts England will have been scratching their heads as they watched South Africa stroll home with nine wickets and 11.4 overs to spare — was this the same team that derailed their campaign last Friday?
Asked to bat first by South Africa, Sri Lanka had an opportunity to put a decent total on the board on a new pitch and then defend with the ball, traditionally their strongest strategy.
Losing Dimuth Karunaratne in the first over was a dreadful start, but the brisk and entertaining 67-run partnership between Kusal Perera and Avishka Fernando created early promise of a competitive total. Avishka once again showed some real class, confirming him to be a future player of immense potential for Sri Lanka. He bats with lots of time and is very balanced.
The challenge for him is to pace his innings with greater intelligence and learn how to shift back and forth on the gears. He likes to keep going at the bowlers, which makes him a dangerous match-winner when things all go his way, but he would benefit from sometimes pulling back and managing his risk-taking more shrewdly.
His wasteful dismissal, as he tried to loft over mid-on for another boundary, sparked a mini collapse against some disciplined medium pace from Dwaine Pretorius. Perera also made a mistake against a ball that cramped him for room.
Angelo Mathews showed all his experience against England, holding the innings together with intelligent and skilful batting, and he tried to play a similar innings but eventually ran out of patience against Chris Morris.
That dismissal was another match-turning moment left Sri Lanka in deep trouble on 100-4. The middle order tried to repair the damage, but no one, despite several making good starts, was able to go and play a definitive innings.
For Sri Lanka to win defending a 204-run target they needed something really special with the new ball. Malinga dismissed the dangerous Quinton De Kock with a beautiful delivery, but he was unable to repeat the heroics he showed against England.
South Africa were very short of confidence after a terrible World Cup performance, but the experienced Hasim Amla and Faf du Plessis settled those nerves with a clinical 175-run partnership.
This leaves Sri Lanka facing likely elimination. Statistically there is still hope, but they have to win against West Indies on Monday and India next weekend and then hope that England, Pakistan and Bangladesh all self-destruct.
They need to take it game by game and just focus on the West Indies match. If they can regroup and return for that game with the same intensity and passion that was on display against England then they can definitely beat a dangerous but dispirited West Indies team.
Beating India is another matter. They are looking very strong despite a real wobble against Afghanistan. The loss of Shikar Dhawan at the top of the order has left a small weakness that teams are keen to exploit, hoping that KL Rahul makes an early mistake, but with both Virat Kohli and M.S. Dhoni in excellent form their batting order looks formidable.
India’s game against England on Sunday is a huge game in Birmingham and it is absolutely crucial for an England team that are now on the ropes after three failed run chases.
England started this tournament as the well-deserved favourites, but they have not been able to play with the same dominance during the past two weeks that has propelled their white ball cricket in recent times.
They look under pressure and they are clearly missing Jason Roy at the top of the order. They will be desperate for him to play against India and help reinvigorate their batting with his positive energy and intent.