South Africa strengthened their case to be rated right up there among the World Twenty20 favourites by producing a tip-top bowling and fielding performance against Sri Lanka during yesterday's warm-up match at Lord's.
Graeme Smith's team are scheduled to be one of England's opponents when it comes to the Super Eight stage of this tournament, and it was only mildly reassuring for supporters of the hosts that the Proteas made quite a meal of chasing a small target of 110 before securing victory with six wickets and five balls to spare.
Herschelle Gibbs was dropped four times during a scratchy innings of 48. But the result never looked in much doubt and, having already trounced Pakistan this week, one wonders whether South Africa really need the extra practice match which they have arranged to play, against Ireland at Southgate, today. Certainly, fast bowler Dale Steyn requires little in the way of fine tuning on the evidence of this performance.
Sri Lanka had started promisingly enough, Tillekeratne Dilshan easing Steyn's third ball of the match well beyond square leg for six. But he fell to the next delivery, poking a tame drive to extra cover, and the boundary was not cleared again until the 18th over.
Despite bowling at the start and finish off the innings, Steyn – varying his pace intelligently – conceded only eight more runs after that early six and accounted for both openers. Now in his 40th year, Sanath Jayasuriya, Sri Lanka's original master blaster in the World Cup-winning side of 1996, is clinging on to international cricket by his finger tips these days, and losing a debatable lbw decision will not help him to begin what could be his last tournament in an optimistic mood.
With another veteran, the now 35-year-old Gibbs, rolling back the years to run out Jehan Mubarak through a direct hit from mid-off, Sri Lanka were soon 16 for three. A partial recovery, to 109 for nine, was managed, thanks mainly to a couple of late sixes from Nuwan Kulasekera, but South Africa remained odds on even after losing Smith and fellow opener Jacques Kallis inside two overs. It might have been different, perhaps, if Faveez Maharoof had accepted either of two early chances when Gibbs pulled to square leg and drove to extra cover, but both opportunities were wasted and the lucky No 3 slowly found some form during a decisive partnership of 70 with AB de Villiers.
The best news for Sri Lanka is that they will be able to call on senior spinner Muttiah Muralitharan once the tournament starts for real. They rested Murali yesterday, but having struggled to see off Bangladesh earlier this week it is their batting that will need to show a marked improvement.Reuse content