By Syed Khalid Mahmood
History repeated itself at the Super Sport Park in Centurion on September 22 as the hosts South Africa crashed to defeat in the opening match of the ICC Champions Trophy 2009. They were surprised by the Sri Lankans, who never looked back after the whirlwind century from Tillekeratne Dilshan.
The top ranked ODI side of the world, South Africa, entered the competition as the firm favourites. Now they face the prospects of an early elimination on their own soil yet again in not too dissimilar fashion as the ICC World Cup 2003 and the inaugural ICC World Twenty20 in 2007.
South Africa have had this knack of choking at certain levels. They have often run out of steam in the semifinals of various ICC tournaments but more alarmingly they have fared even worse in their own backyard.
Judging by their current form and the balance of their side I was quite confident that they would leisurely walk through to the semifinals with neither of their opponents in league matches, Sri Lanka, England or New Zealand, possessing the strength to take them to task. I had anticipated them getting knocked out in the semifinals at the hands of Australia or India.
But the events of the opening day have created doubts even if they would reach the knockout stage of the competition. The home advantage has turned out to be the big disadvantage to them and they have to do something extraordinary to come back in the reckoning.
Since they are playing in their own country where they have a pathetic record in the ICC tournaments one can’t really back them regrouping all that quickly. All they need is a couple of bad hours in the park and they would be out of the event much to the disappointment of their fans.
Graeme Smith would do his country a great service if he could convince his boys to take the games against England and New Zealand as just another One-day International, forgetting they were playing in the Champions Trophy.
Smith must be wondering how he lost the plot against Sri Lanka, who were bulldozed by Pakistan in the warm-up tie leading to the big event. His decision to bowl first after winning the toss was a bold one but it didn’t pay off. They needed to take more than a wicket when the ball was still hard and new.
Dilshan and skipper Kumar Sangakkara laid a platform from where they never going to lose. The match could have gone only one way once the Sri Lankans had amassed 319 runs in 50 overs. Dilshan’s 92-ball 106 was indeed a terrific effort against the high quality bowlers.
Smith and Jacques Kallis delighted the home fans with their stroke-play but as expected the arrival of the spinners shattered their stumps as well as hopes. The mystery spinner, Ajantha Mendis, foxed the well-set Smith first ball before scalping Kallis and J P Duminy on successive balls.
Sri Lanka had the match in complete control when the rains came and they were the deserved winners even though it was DL method in the end that was used to settle the issue.
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