Under-pressure South Africa pray for better track
by CricketArchive staff reporter

Scorecard:New Zealand v South Africa
Player:GC Smith, DL Vettori, JS Patel, DPMD Jayawardene, WU Tharanga
Event:ICC Champions Trophy 2006/07

DateLine: 24th October 2006


South Africa go into their must-win Champions Trophy league match in Ahmedabad 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 109 in reply to their rivals' 196, with New Zealand off-spinner Jeetan Patel taking three wickets and left-arm spinner 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 told reporters on Monday. South Africa again face a spin-test as Sri Lanka have effective spinners in Muttiah Muralitharan and Sanath Jayasuriya, who are known for making batsmen struggle on helpful tracks.


"Adapating to the pitch is the key for us. Whether you bowl first or bat first you got to be able to adapt to conditions as quickly as possible," said Smith. "Sri Lanka have always relied on their slow bowlers through the middle overs. From 20 to 50 overs they rely a lot on taking the pace off the ball and it has worked for them over the last few years. We'd love to have Muralitharan or (Shane) Warne. Any team in the world would want to have a match-winner of that calibre, but not every team have one. We have got young spinners and we are backing them to do well."


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," he 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.


Sri Lanka captain Mahela Jawawardene said he was looking forward to an impressive performance from his spinners on a pitch likely to favour them.


"All pitches in India probably will assist spinners. We also have part-time spinners. We played here before against Zimbabwe and the wicket did turn. Hopefully, it will do the same," said Jayawardene. "The advantage we have is that we have Sanath, an experienced campaigner who also bowls spin, and Muralitharan who is something special. Every game is important. We know it is a crucial game for us. It's more like a quarter-final and if we get through this I think we are more likely to get a berth in the semi-finals."


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