South Africa wary of Murali and subcontinent-like pitch


muraliGraeme Smith and his semi-refashioned team might have left it behind, but nobody who watched it will have forgotten the sight of Shaun Pollock in that anguished dressing room, the thousands of confused home supporters soon to be wet in the eye. Not in a knockout situation now, any wetness when South Africa and Sri Lanka face each other in a World Cup four years after that drama-filled encounter is more likely to be from rain.

Trampling all over preparation plans of both teams, the sun finally came out after three days of persistent rain. While it meant that work in the areas adjoining the stadium could be desperately resumed, there was scant consolation for players.

So erratic were the practice pitches that the South Africans decided to limit their net sessions to throw-downs after a few deliveries. There is uncertainty about what to expect from the main square. During the initial testing period last year, the ball had barely got above knee height. The only thing played since was a 20/20 club game, when the response from the surface was more encouraging.

Anyone who has seen it makes the observation that the square looks straight out of the subcontinent. It is likely to play slow and low, noted Sri Lankan coach Tom Moody, but with moisture in the surface and clouds in the sky there may be assistance of swing and seam too.

The biggest challenge as ever for South Africa will be negotiating Muttiah Muralitharan. “We’ve played against Murali quite a lot now,” said Graeme Smith. “It still doesn’t make it easy to play him.”

The one-dayers were washed out when they toured Sri Lanka last year, but in two Tests the South Africans conceded 22 wickets to Murali at an average of 18. “We’ve got strategies that have been in place for a while. Even though he took wickets when we toured there for Tests, the guys played him well and scored over three runs an over against him. That was quite encouraging.”

Moody too acknowledged that “the South Africans played better than what they have in the past against spin. Playing against Murali it doesn’t really matter if you’re South African or from any part of the world. It’s a different challenge completely. You can’t really gauge any team or any player against him, but in general they’re a team that’s definitely improved in that department. Doesn’t mean that its an area we wont be exploring.”

On paper, it appears that Sri Lanka’s batting too ought to be better equipped for the conditions. Apart from the pitch, the boundaries are not quite as small as St. Kitts for South Africa’s hitters to wreak full havoc, whereas Sri Lanka’s middle-overs batting and running particularly on sluggish surfaces is exceptional.

“South Africa are a big scalp,” said Moody, and the Lankans look good to do the scalping.

South Africa (probable) 1 Graeme Smith, 2 AB de Villiers, 3 Jacques Kallis, 4 Herschelle Gibbs, 5 Ashley Prince, 6 Mark Boucher, 7 Justin Kemp, 8 Shaun Pollock, 9 Andrew Hall, 10 Charles Langeveldt, 11 Makhaya Ntini

Sri Lanka (probable)1 Upul Tharanga, 2 Sanath Jayasuriya, 3 Mahela Jayawardene, 4 Kumar Sangakkara, 5 Chamara Silva, 6 Russel Arnold, 7 Tillakaratne Dilshan, 8 Chaminda Vaas, 9 Farveez Maharoof, 10 Muttiah Muralitharan, 11 Lasith Malinga

Source:Cricket Worldcup

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