BIRMINGHAM, England - If Sri Lanka hadn’t flipped the script on Thursday, things wouldn’t be as simple as they now are. No-one saw it coming, but Group B has now become a simple tale of win and stay.
David Miller declared Sunday’s clash against India a quarter-final, and Angelo Mathews has now decreed it as so.
Sri Lanka's chase at a startled Oval was incredible, and broke Group B wide open. Now, there are no mathematical equations of net run-rate and whatever other nonsense. Just win.
Sri Lanka now have a humdinger against a Pakistan team who now reckon they are cricket’s Rocky Balboa story. Again, given the way Pakistan fluctuate from champs to chumps, it is entirely possible that they wake up on the wrong side of Mickey Arthur, and get spanked to all corners by Mathews and co. Pakistan seldom put on two performances that bear any resemblance.
But now is not the time to worry about Arthur and his lot. We must stay in the moment, as the Proteas have constantly reminded us. To dare to dream of semis would be desperately premature, because India presents an Everest on its own.
Much like South Africa, and most other teams at this Champions Trophy, India are a creature of momentum. If it’s going for them, they soar and become impossible to live with, much like England at the moment.
But, when they stutter, they have a soft underbelly, one that has Virat Kohli spitting his expensive dummy in a fashion not dissimilar to Steve Smith of Australia.
This tournament, this burst of ambition and ammunition, is littered with similar narratives, all separated by little passages of time where things swing one way or another. Rain saved Australia against the Kiwis, then denied them against Bangladesh.
South Africa insist that rain hurt them against Pakistan, but their batting didn’t warrant victory, and they must again search within, or they will once again be looking on, without, to mangle a line from The Great Gatsby.
AB de Villiers proudly stated that his squad had 15 potential match-winners, but this tournament has only seen 11 of them at play, and perhaps only a handful of those looking like winning a match. Let them and their offerings not be left on the table of contemplation, like previous tournaments.
Common sense dictates that the selectors must consider changes, and left-arm spinner Keshav Maharaj has to come into the picture, as a supplement to Imran Tahir. For too long South Africa have insisted on a one-spinner policy, but these over-used surfaces in the Champions Trophy may encourage the slower men more.
Morne Morkel can’t be left out again, given the hostility and sincerity of his spell at Edgbaston. Kagiso Rabada is the spearhead, and Chris Morris gives the batting some late mongrel, or at least the suggestion of it.
Wayne Parnell, then, must be in danger, given his lack of containment upfront. He is not alone, though. Tournament success and survival relies mostly on senior players standing tall, and the Proteas need infinitely more from their stars come Sunday.
Miller, without a Test cap to his name, dug in and produced the sole bit of grit against Pakistan, despite his job description leaning towards grievous bodily harm. He enjoyed it, he said, but he surely would have loved it more if he had esteemed company at the other end.
Too many of his middle-order men wilted in the Pakistani cauldron of the first hour. The Oval will be no place for shrinking violets, because India will throw the kitchen sink at them. And, if they thought Birmingham sounded like an away game, they will be shocked to hear the decibel count in South London on Sunday.
The scene will resemble Mumbai, and South Africa need to feed off that, rather than become carcasses for India and its vulture-like mob to tear into.
If South Africa can keep their heads, and play to their undoubted potential, then Monday might bring with it hope anew, instead of the all too familiar woe and ‘if-only’ tales that have become part and parcel of their tournament history.
They are not alone, mind you. Australia and New Zealand are also living off permutations and optimistic calculations, as the tournament separates the players from the puzzlers this weekend.
If has suddenly become the biggest little buzz-word in these parts. And this tournament, this hurricane of bats and balls, is frothing up to a sensational crescendo.
Who said 50-over fare was dead?