South Africa thrashed Sri Lanka by nine wickets in the first quarter-final of the ICC Cricket World Cup in a surprisingly one-sided affair in Sydney dominated by spin. The contest not only produced clear winners and losers, but also firsts and lasts as the Proteas won their first ever knockout match in a cricket World Cup and, conversely, it was the last time the two Sri Lankan powerhouses of Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene would grace the ODI arena. A bittersweet day all round.
South Africa vs Sri Lanka
South Africa came oh so close in 1999 to winning a knockout match at a World Cup as they came within a bail’s width of beating Australia in the greatest ever semi-final. Chasing 214 for victory, the Proteas fell one agonising run short as they were all-out with two balls to spare and with the scores tied; Australia advanced as they finished higher up in the Super Six table.
The choker tag was born, adding this failure to the disasters in 1992 and 1996 (after they were Lara’d in the quarter-final to end a 10-match winning run), and remained a suffocating influence on performance for three more World Cups before today’s era-defining and pressure-releasing annihilation of Sri Lanka.
A first for South African cricket and made with an easy jump over a big hurdle but with two more victories needed for World Cup glory, they’ll know that just as quickly as the shackles have been shaken off, they can cruelly be reattached just as swift to choke once more.
World Cup defeats often open the exit door for international players to bow out on the biggest stage and both Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene chose this tournament to be their last ODI assignment. Sri Lanka has lost two of its greatest ever ODI batsmen, leaders and cricket gentlemen in a way not befitting their contribution to the game with today’s defeat, but with careers that sit alongside any greats of the sport.
Kumar Sangakkara made his ODI debut against Pakistan in 2000 and his mammoth 404 matches since then yielded 14,234 runs at an average of 41.98 with 25 centuries and 93 half centuries. This puts him clear second on the all-time list of run scorers in ODIs and makes him a genuine legend of the game. Captaining the side in 45 ODIs, Sangakkara won 27 of those including guiding the team to the World Cup final in 2011 and was the third highest run scorer in the tournament with 465 runs in nine matches.
He leaves this tournament as the current highest run scorer with 541 runs in seven innings at an outstanding average of 108.20 and, although he bows out in disappointing fashion, there’s every chance he’ll still be sitting top of the pile come the end of the tournament: an achievement no-one could begrudge a true champion of the sport from having as his one day retirement gift.
Debuting in 1998 against Zimbabwe, Mahela Jayawardene has crafted 12,650 runs in a career spanning a monumental 448 matches at a respectable average of 33.37 and sits proudly fifth on the list of ODI run scorers. Another great and respected captain of the national side, he led the team into the 2007 World Cup final before losing to Australia and finished second for runs scored in the tournament. He is the only player to have scored a World Cup hundred in a semi-final (vs New Zealand in 2007) and a final (vs Australia in 2011).
Individually these two were giants of white ball cricket and feared by all who played against them but when they came together 22 yards apart, they were a powerful and dominant team within a team. An obvious strong friendship coupled with complimentary batting styles and a true love for the game enabled them to produce many match-winning partnerships.
In 151 ODI innings batting together, they stand only behind Ganguly and Tendulkar at the summit of total runs scored in partnerships. Their 5,992 runs at an average of 41.61 has been made with pure class, temperament and style and the Sri Lankan Lions will roar quite considerably quieter now the two have retired, as they finish with what made them strong in the first place, together.
As South Africa walk on through the World Cup with their first ever knockout victory, two legends of the game walk out of the ODI arena in a day of winners and losers and firsts and lasts in World Cup cricket.