Sri Lanka win by three wickets
Farhaan Behardien clearly lacks the powers of persuasion that Faf du Plessis possesses. Where Du Plessis got what he wanted with regards to the pitches for the Tests against Sri Lanka – extra grass to aid seam bowling and nullify the threat of Rangana Herath – here the Sri Lankans had a surface which could have been flown in from Colombo and they relished it – at least when they were in the field.
For the purposes of 20-over cricket this was a far from ideal surface at a venue famous for producing pitches that assist big scoring. The pitch was very dry, cracking up and never assisted good strokeplay. It certainly didn’t make for a run-fest and there were a number of occasions when the sold out crowd could be heard voicing their displeasure about the lack of entertainment – ie. boundaries.
“It was little bit disappointing coming to the Bullring and getting a slow turner,” Behardien said afterwards.
“Normally, you expect pace and bounce, lots of runs, fours and sixes … not so today.”
The match would finish in dramatic circumstances, with an injured Angelo Mathews smashing a pair of straight sixes to get his side across the line and earn their first win on what has been a wretched tour thus far.
It was a scrappy game, not helped by the batsmen on both sides – bar Mathews and to a lesser extent Dinesh Chandimal – failing to adjust their methods according to the nature of the pitch.
South Africa’s answer to the spinning challenge was frenzied and occasionally brainless.
It wasn’t just the shot selection that was poor but from the get go the South Africans lacked patience, and, as the innings unfolded, the nous to deal with what Sri Lanka’s bowlers served up.
Heino Kuhn and Theunis de Bruyn got into an awful mix up at the start of the third over not knowing whether to attempt a quick single and the former should have been run out. Instead of someone taking a deep breath for the home team, they just continued taking tight singles and, as if by number, having taken three singles they then sought to play the big shot and on most occasions got out.
“We thought we’d assessed the pitch, but the nature of it brought the Sri Lankan spinners into the game, notably their left-arm chinaman (Lakshan Sandakhan), who was a star for them today and picked up wickets on a regular basis,” Behardien remarked.
Kuhn top scored with 29, but if South Africa were going to get a proper score on that surface he needed to be batting well into the second half of the innings. He was out in the ninth over, the second of debutant Sandakhan’s four wickets.
The left-arm wrist spinner was very impressive finishing with 4/23 in four overs, bamboozling the South Africans who, failing to read him, then tried to hit him too hard.
The Proteas deserve some credit for the spirit they showed in defending a total that they knew was far from adequate. Led by an energetic performance from Lungi Ngidi, who backed up his debut performance with a stunningly mature display yesterday, they made a Sri Lankan side lacking confidence, work very hard for their victory.
The 20-year-old extracted pace and bounce off the surface, causing discomfort for the all the Sri Lankan batsmen, and eventually finished with 4/19 from four overs.
Where South Africa had earlier failed Sri Lanka succeeded in their innings, building a crucial partnership for the fourth wicket between their two most experienced players, Mathews and Chandimal, of 51.
Three late wickets made for a tense finish which was further heightened when Mathews appeared to twist his ankle diving for a quick single at the end of the penultimate over.
Jon-Jon Smuts was tasked with bowling the last over and nearly had Mathews caught at deep midwicket, but in diving forward to take the catch Kuhn missed a difficult chance.
Mathews maintained his composure and smashed two sixes to win the game. He ended on 54 not out off 50 balls having hit a four and three sixes.
Sri Lanka’s coach Graham Ford said afterwards that the medical staff were still assessing the captain, but although he was “looking very sore, he was also very happy”.
The series decider will be played at Newlands on Wednesday
* The national selectors added AB de Villiers to the squad for that final match.
While the Proteas battled at the ‘Bullring,’ 40 minutes away in Benoni, De Villiers made a hundred playing for the Northerns semi-professional side in a local provincial game against Easterns at Willowmoore Park.
De Villiers, playing his first game back since undergoing elbow surgery in October, finished not out on 134 off 103 balls, hitting 19 fours and three sixes. Given the way South Africa batted here, De Villiers’ experience and composure will certainly be welcomed.