AB de Villiers. Picture: GALLO IMAGES/LEE WARREN
AB de Villiers. Picture: GALLO IMAGES/LEE WARREN

London — Imran Tahir remains the first-choice spinner, despite Keshav Maharaj’s promising progress. Rather a proper quick bowler like Morné Morkel than a bowler who bats a bit. Lasith Malinga? Bring him.

If a prize for straightforwardness was offered at the Champions Trophy‚ AB de Villiers would have won it on Friday — the eve of SA’s first match‚ against Sri Lanka at The Oval.

England and Bangladesh topped 300 in the opening game of the tournament at the ground on Thursday.

What did that tell De Villiers about how many runs his team might need to score‚ or need to stop the Sri Lankans from scoring?

"I have absolutely no idea‚" he said. "We don’t play our cricket like that — it’s all about assessing on the day. We saw a high-scoring game in the last one; the groundsman reckons it won’t be as high for tomorrow. Every wicket you play on is different‚ and we’re not going to come out and say that’s what we want."

Maharaj took four wickets at a run-a-ball in the two one-day internationals he played in the series against England.

Tahir played in the first of the three matches‚ went wicketless and for 7.55 runs in his nine overs‚ and missed the last game with a hamstring problem. But the captain had his back. "Imran is fit and he’s our No. 1 spin bowler‚ and Keshav understands his role when it comes to that‚" De Villiers said.

"There might be a time in the tournament where we might use a different strategy‚ if we play against a certain opposition or on a certain field. But‚ for tomorrow‚ Imran is the No. 1 pick."

Wayne Parnell and Andile Phehlukwayo played two of the England ODIs‚ and Chris Morris all three. Morkel was given just one outing‚ and that despite not featuring in a match for SA in the format for more than a year because of a back injury.

Would South Africa’s bromance with all-rounders continue on Saturday‚ or would they put their faith in a specialist like Morkel? "We know that we have an opportunity and the ability to bowl the Sri Lankan side out‚" De Villiers said. "To me it’s really important to get your top three or four bowlers in there. Not that the all-rounders can’t take wickets but I’ll probably be leaning towards getting our best bowlers in to make sure we have our best chance to bowl them out and to get 10 wickets in the game."

SA have won their last seven ODIs against Sri Lanka‚ and dismissed them in six of them — four times for less than 200. But it bears remembering that Parnell was the leading wicket-taker and had the best strike rate in the Sri Lankans’ ODI series in SA in January and February‚ and that Morris had the lowest average among those who played in most of that rubber and the best economy rate overall.

The first of those seven ODIs marked the last time SA played a Sri Lankan team that included Lasith Malinga.

How did the prospect of renewing hostilities with the side-winding strike bowler sit with De Villiers? "We’ve played thousands of games against him‚" he said. "He’s still the same kind of bowler — he does the same things."

Malinga’s last dance with SA was the 2015 World Cup quarter-final in Sydney — the only World Cup‚ Champions Trophy or World T20 knockout game the South Africans have yet won.

The Oval itself was the scene of one of their most abject failures in that regard: the 2013 Champions Trophy semi-final against England‚ who dismissed them for 175. De Villiers flung a bat at a full‚ wide delivery from Stuart Broad and was caught behind off his bottom edge for a nine-ball duck. Despite that ragged stroke‚ he looked just as deliberate then as he sounded on Thursday.

The trick is to make his team hit their straps as well as his words hit the mark.

TMG Digital

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