It has taken 30 days, but at long last this World Cup gets some north-eastern exposure, arriving at Durham for the first of three fixtures. A week ago, this looked like a stinker between two sides with no chance. But then the butterly flapped it wings: Sri Lanka beat England and the race for the top four was turned on its head. In turn, the destiny of Dimuth Karunaratne’s charges remains in their hands.
By contrast, their opponents today, South Africa, were the second team formally punted from the tournament when they were thrashed by Pakistan on Sunday at Lord’s. The final margin didn’t do justice to just how abject they were with the bat in pursuit of 285, never even remotely in the hunt. It summed up the Proteas’ limp month in the country, putting in one underwhelming effort after another.
Yes, Faf du Plessis’ team whitewashed Sri Lanka in this format earlier this year, and sure, they have knocked them off in 16 of their last 18 ODIs. But that doesn’t mean an awful lot to them now as they enter this slow, post-elimination goodbye.
The degree of difficulty for Sri Lanka remains, needing to win all three of their games, but it is not quite as steep as it is being suggested when comparing that position to the other sides in the pelaton, Pakistan and Bangladesh. If they get up today, their next must-win game is against another side who won’t be progressing: West Indies. Then comes India to finish, but one step at a time.
In terms of the venue, this time last year England chased down Australia’s 314 in just 44 overs. We haven’t seen many games like that in this comp, but we’re right to assume they will be friendly batting conditions first up. And it should be a sunny day, the temperature expected to top 20 degrees in county Durham.
So what will it be? Some more Malinga magic to keep this chasing group at seven? Or will South Africa play for (I promise this the only time I’ll say…) pride? I’m looking forward to finding out with you throughout the morning. Stay in touch in the usual OBO ways, dropping me a line or firing off a punchy tweet.