After what they had to bowl on in Galle and Colombo in the two Tests, it could just as well have been a “Bullring special”.
Sri Lanka vs South Africa
First ODI – Dambulla International Stadium
Sri Lanka 193 all out
South Africa 196/5
Result: South Africa won by five wickets
The South Africans always felt that the pitches for the One-Day series against Sri Lanka wouldn’t be as dry and deteriorated as they had been for the Test matches, but even at their most optimistic they would not have believed they’d get a surface quite as familiar to them as what they encountered at the Dambulla International Stadium yesterday.
By no means was it the Wanderers, but after what they had to bowl on in Galle and Colombo in the two Tests, it could just as well have been a “Bullring special”.
“KG (Rabada) was saying, it was nice to see some nicks again,” remarked JP Duminy afterwards. Indeed three of the first five Sri Lankan dismissals were all caught behind the wicket as Rabada and new ball partner Lungi Ngidi made excellent use of a surface with more pace and bounce than they have seen in the last month.
The Sri Lankan batsmen’s weaknesses against the short ball were exposed and they crumbled to 36/5 in the ninth over after Angelo Mathews had won the toss. “The game was pretty much done (by that stage),” Mathews remarked.
Still, the home side gave themselves some hope with the two Pereras, Kusal and Thisara, taking advantage of poor performances from Andile Phehlukwayo and Wiaan Mulder. Both of South Africa’s two seam bowling all-rounders struggled with their lines and lengths, either floating the ball up to the batsmen or, when they bowled short, not doing so with sufficient pace to make the bouncer effective.
As a result the two left-handers pummeled their way to a 92-run stand for the sixth wicket using up just 55 balls to do so.
Harsh lessons would have been learned by Phehlukwayo and Mulder and their strategies will need to be more clearly drawn up and, more importantly, executed with far more accuracy in the remainder of the series.
Wrist-spinner Tabraiz Shamsi delivered the crucial breakthrough with his fourth ball in the 18th over when he had Thisara Perera caught behind with a ball that drew the batsman forward and then slid on rather than turning.
Kusal Perera eventually lost the battle between trying to be aggressive and protecting the lower order when he top-edged a reverse sweep to a diving David Miller at backward point after scoring 81 (72b, 11x4s, 1×6).
Shamsi wrapped up the Sri Lankan innings in the 35th over finishing with 4/33, matching Rabada’s wicket haul.
Besides the two all-rounders, who conceded 64 runs in their combined six overs, it was an efficient display from the South African attack, which despite its inexperience looks like being the main strength of this Proteas squad.
Although the hosts dismissed Hashim Amla (19) and Aiden Markram (0) early, a welcome return to form for Quinton de Kock (47), and another solid innings from Faf Du Plessis (47) helped settle any butterflies in the South African dressing-room providing the foundation for the first win against Sri Lanka on the tour.
The highlight of the touring team’s batting effort came from Duminy who’s unbeaten 53 – the 26th half-century of his career – was packed with sparkling strokeplay.
“It was about trying to take the positive option, and then sticking to the game plan no matter the state of the game and fortunately today it worked,” said Duminy.
It’s to be hoped that this is the start of a lengthy run of good form from Duminy who too often has failed to justify the faith shown in him by teammates and the selectors.
South Africa and Sri Lanka will meet in the second ODI – a day/night match – also in Dambulla on Wednesday. It’s likely the same pitch as yesterday’s will be used for that game – it will probably be slightly drier and more damaged – which is likely to suit Sri Lanka’s spinners more as the hosts seek to get back into the series as quickly as possible.