January 29, 2017 - 12:09am
The confidence boost Sri Lanka gained from their T20 series victory did not carry over into the start of the one-day internationals as they were trounced by eight wickets in Port Elizabeth. A masterclass of limited-overs legspin by Imran Tahir snuffed out the middle order as they limped to 181, which proved a scant challenge for South Africa's full-strength top order.
Tahir finished with 3 for 26, including the scalp of top-scorer Kusal Mendis for 62, and did not concede a boundary in his 10 overs to ensure South Africa always held control after choosing to bowl first. Wayne Parnell had made swift work of the openers, before a stand of 72 for the third wicket between Mendis and Dinesh Chandimal steadied the innings, although it was laborious progress against probing bowling from South Africa's quartet of seamers. It meant that when Tahir made his inroads, with three wickets in 15 balls, Sri Lanka had little to show for the consolidation and the innings frittered away.
An opening stand of 71 in 13 overs between Quinton de Kock and Hashim Amla, two of the senior South Africa players rested from the T20 series, broke the back of the chase and the target was knocked off with more than 15 overs to spare.
For the eight teams taking part, all one-day internationals at the moment lead towards the Champions Trophy in June. While Sri Lanka appear to have many questions to answer, South Africa's squad for this series is probably not far from what they will take to the tournament, but some players are still in need of performances to cement their positions.
Chief among those is Parnell, and he made the perfect start when he trapped Niroshan Dickwella lbw first ball. He soon followed that with the wicket of debutant Sandun Weerakkody, who had only arrived in the country yesterday after a delayed flight, when he had a waft outside off which smacked of jetlag.
Sri Lanka knew they had to avoid further early losses, so caution was the watch-word for Chandimal, although Mendis showed greater inclination to attack, twice taking two boundaries in an over off Parnell and Andile Phehlukwayo. Mendis was given lbw on 48, but the decision by Richard Kettleborough was overturned when replays showed an edge off his sweep, and he reached his fifty from 74 balls.
But it wasn't long before Tahir started to unpick the innings. Chandimal, who had taken 47 balls to find the boundary, was beautifully set up by a series of leg-breaks, before Tahir tossed a googly wide which spun back between bat and pad. Two overs later, he removed Mendis, lbw, playing back to a delivery that spun enough to beat the outside edge, and this time the review brought no reprieve.
Upul Tharanga, captaining this side in Angelo Mathews' absence, continued in the middle-order role he had in last year's tri-series in Zimbabwe despite his 13 hundreds coming as an opener. He could not lift his side, however, when he drove limply to cover, although Tahir deserved credit for switching his line to around the wicket.
Sri Lanka's problems were compounded by a mix-up between Dhananjaya de Silva and Asela Gunaratne, which saw the latter run out after a relay throw from the deep via Quinton de Kock to Parnell at the bowling end.
Nuwan Kulasekara clubbed a couple of lusty shots, including the one six of the innings, before edging Kagiso Rabada. With nine overs remaining, there was little choice but to try and see out the innings. They failed by nine deliveries as Parnell and Chris Morris removed the final three wickets. From the start of the 43rd over, they had not scored more than one run off a delivery.
South Africa's top order is daunting with all the big-guns back, and it would have taken a remarkable effort from Sri Lanka to defend the total. Suranga Lakmal's first ball took de Kock's outside edge, but the ball fell short of the slips. De Kock could have been run-out from mid-off on 21. However, the way the openers imposed themselves on Sri Lanka's wrist spinners - Jeffrey Vandersay and Lakshan Sandakan - showed their intent for a ruthless performance.
Sandakan, who had claimed 4 for 23 in the second T20, was taken for 10 in his first over, and Vandersay, a late call-up to the one-day squad, 14 off his first. Although Sandakan struck against the run of play, when de Kock drove to cover, boundaries came regularly. Amla barely broke sweat in bringing up his fifty off 56 deliveries, and Faf du Plessis was able to enjoy an extended net after his brief down time following the Test series.
While Amla's slightly soft dismissal, as he lobbed a return catch to Gunaratne, was a disappointment for him, it gave the crowd what they wanted - AB de Villiers at the crease. To chants of "AB, AB", he played within himself but did loft one over the boundary. Back as captain, in his first one-day international since last June, the day could not really have gone any better.