South Africa v Sri Lanka Preview, 19 May 1999by Trevor Chesterfield
If we are to believe Alec Stewart's theory that this is the most open World Cup tournament of the past 24 years then Arjuna Ranatunga's view that Sri Lanka still have a chance to qualify for the semi-final cannot be entirely ignored.
But to get there, however, needs a touch more reality than your average spot of day dreaming and requires more than beating tournament favourites South Africa at Northampton today when both sides play their second Group A game.
England's captain had a reason the express his thoughts of the openness on the eve of the first match of the five week event last Friday. As wannabe title-holders they wanted to be seen as a touch better than the tea islanders, who are the reigning champions, for the opening game at Lord's.
Also there was the Muthia Muralitharan factor, which we are to believe the Sri Lanka press, the only thing he cannot do is walk on water. But if they could, the Sri Lanka media would find an excuse to make that an acceptable claim as well.
The Kandy-born off-spinner, whose weird bowling action has been passed as "fair" by the International Cricket Council's special technical committee, had spread fear and destruction against England in the one off Tests last August with hauls of seven and nine wickets for a remarkable 16 in a Test.
All this was some months after he was all but annihilated at SuperSport Centurion by the South African captain Hansie Cronje when he used the slog-sweep to some effect, flogging him on to the eastern embankment with some affect. Last year South Africa was at a psychological low when they lost to Sri Lanka in the Emirates Triangular trophy tournament.
The way Muralitharan was treated by Graeme Hick and Stewart in that opening game six days ago showed that the man with the golden elbow may have hit a psychological barrier himself for this World Cup. The question now is whether South Africa's front four batsmen can finish off at Northampton today what England began at Lord's.
Certainly Mark Boucher, after his brush with Anil Kumble's googly at Hove in the opening match which South Africa won by four wickets, might feel a certain nervousness against Muralitharan's off-spin. It seems there will be no change to the South African side which beat India in the opening round.
So far South Africa have accepted, and handled pretty well, the position as tournament favourites, just as well as they bowled the last 10 overs against India at Hove, giving away a run rate of six an over. Allan Donald's ability to keep it tight at one end, restricted India. Just the sort of tactics South Africa need if they are to continue their run of success.