South Africa pray for a better track

Ahmedabad, October 23:

South Africa go into their must-win Champions Trophy league match here on Tuesday hoping to get a better pitch to counter Sri Lanka’s spin bowling.

Graeme Smith’s team are under pressure after losing to New Zealand by 87 runs in their opening Group-B match at Mumbai on a pitch which came under fire for deteriorating during the second half of the game.

South Africa were bundled out for 108 in reply to their rivals’ 195, with New Zealand off-spinner Jeetan Patel taking three wickets and Daniel Vettori one in their economical spells late in the innings. “The wicket here looks better than what we had in Mumbai and hopefully it produces a good game of cricket,” Smith said on Monday. South Africa again face a spin-test as Sri Lanka have effective spinners in Muttiah Muralitharan and Sanath Jayasuriya.

The South African skipper said his team had the batsmen to deliver in the match they needed to win to stay alive in the competition. Sri Lanka and New Zealand have one win from two matches and Pakistan one from one.

“We cover all areas pretty well in the top eight. We have big-hitters down the order and strikers at the top. I think we are pretty much up there with the combination of our batting unit,” Smith said. “Probably the conditions here will suit Sri Lanka more, but it does not mean we don’t believe we can’t beat them. We know we are a quality one-day team ranked number two in the world. Hopefully, we can show it tomorrow.”

Sri Lanka have won four of their five matches, including three in the qualifying round, and a victory on Tuesday will strengthen their chances of qualifying for the semi-finals. The top two sides advance to the next round.

Smith said his team would have to raise the level of their performance to stop Sri Lanka who looked to be a side in form. “Sri Lanka are probably the form team in the tournament as they have been playing since the qualifying round. They have got their combinations right and most of their players are performing well,” he said. “Hopefully, we can put a good combination that wins us the game tomorrow.”

Sri Lanka are fortunate to have in-form openers in Upul Tharanga and Jayasuriya and a proven match-winner in Muralitharan. Tharanga is the leading scorer of the tournament with 309 runs in five matches with two centuries.

“They (Sri Lanka) have an aggressive opening pair and they rely on them a lot to get them off to a good start. Hopefully, we can really start rolling the ball tomorrow,” Smith said.

“Our strength has always been our seam bowling. It is just about trying to put your strength into the conditions you play and that is what we are going to do tomorrow.”