There is no real pressure. No way that they can choke. Far as South Africa are concerned, this could just be another match in a bilateral series. Will that free them up against a team they have routinely thumped over the last year? Of the last ten matches between these sides, South Africa have won eight. Even the two games that Sri Lanka have won were dead rubbers, after South Africa had already sewn the series up.
Or will the disappointments of this campaign weigh South Africa down even more? When you’ve planned, and played with the World Cup as your focus for two years, only to underperform spectacularly at the actual event, there are likely to be emotional consequences.
Will South Africa play like a team that has nothing to play for, or one that has nothing to lose?
“When you have no pressure of qualifying, they can come and, without any pressure, play fearless cricket,” Sri Lanka coach Chandika Hathurusingha said of South Africa. “At the same time, they can turn up and just want to go home, so you never know.”
“I 100% agree with the freedom – just go out and play your natural game, your naturally gifted game. That’s not a cop-out”
JP Duminy, who may play his first match in over two weeks on Friday, on account of an injury to David Miller, believes in the “freedom” narrative. Or at least, he hopes the lack of pressure will transform South Africa. Having announced his ODI retirement before the tournament, it is one of Duminy’s final opportunities on this stage.
“Is your foot on the plane or does that give you a sense of freedom? I 100% agree with the freedom – just go out and play your natural game, your naturally gifted game,” he said. “That’s not a cop-out. That is just an understanding that you have almost the license to just go out and play with the freedom that you were allowed to play with as a young kid, and play with a smile on your face. You play to enjoy the game and that’s the kind of mentality that I certainly want to end my international one-day career with.
“I’ll be having fun with my friends on the field, understanding what a huge privilege it was to represent my country so many times. You should never take that for granted. And if any of us has one foot on the plane, that means you are taking it for granted.”
Although South Africa are out, a win for them in Durham will substantially diminish Sri Lanka’s chances of qualifying for the semi-finals. The recent history between these two sides suggests South Africa should ease past this opposition, but as results from various matches over the past week have shown, recent history doesn’t always count for much in the bump and grind of a World Cup.
“We played good cricket against Sri Lanka, both in Sri Lanka a few months ago, and recently in South Africa, so we know we can beat them,” Duminy said. “I wouldn’t say that’s a mission of ours to stop them from qualifying. I think the important mission for us is to play good cricket – the cricket we know and the brand we know we are capable of playing.
“I think if we do that, particularly tomorrow, and in the game against Australia, we give ourselves the best chance of beating them.”