The incredible stretch of losses in Sri Lanka for the Proteas continues to grow. Of the twelve completed one-day internationals in the country, South Africa have won only one. Almost two decades ago, Kepler Wessels captained the side to victory. Now he commentates over the makeshift setup that continues to be outdone on the tiny subcontinental island. I discussed in the previous match write-up the challenges facing such a weakened South African side, but at this stage, I fear even the return of the likes of Graeme Smith and Hashim Amla would make hardly a difference. Dale Steyn’s return from injury is a must, but blame must befall South Africa’s unhealthy relationship with spin.
Sri Lanka 13/20
South Africa 12/10
The hosts will be satisfied by their performance so far, but were made to work for their runs against a more disciplined South African attack. Stand-in captain Dinesh Chandimal will be delighted with a slight return to form, scoring 43 amid similar contributions from Dilshan and Sangakkara. They wouldn’t need much else, their 223 more than enough following rain, wickets and Duckworth/Lewis calculations. Malinga again broke the South African opening partnership (albeit featuring different members) with a trademark yorker, Herath was again impressive and Dilshan managed to get the Protea batsmen in a tangle. They’re an extremely competent side in their familiar surroundings and with the imminent return of Angelo Mathews, are to become even stronger. Their batsmen may face a challenge in Pallekele with a slightly more seamer friendly track, but South Africa will need to adjust their length and death bowling accordingly.
It’s not a revelation that South Africa lacks world-class spin bowlers. It’s not a surprise that South Africans are also not the best players of spin. What is potentially eye-opening is way the selectors have gone about filling this void. Robin Peterson is the correct choice as a left-arm spinner, he’s among the best in the country but is also experienced and has a great attitude for the game. It’s also acceptable to have JP Duminy turning his arm, he’s got a knack for taking wickets, is in the team for his batting anyway and is useful against left-handers. Then it becomes puzzling. Aaron Phangiso is largely the same type of bowler as Petersen and doesn’t offer anything with the bat. I had no problem with him around the T20 squad following his successful stint in the Champions League, but his elevation to ODI level and the insistence from AB de Villiers that the Proteas are fielding their best team, confounds me. In the five ODIs he has played, Imran Tahir averages 10.71. Okay, he was found wanting at test level and has been included in the T20 leg of the tour, but I feel he has a lot more to offer with his googly against Sri Lanka’s left-handers than Phangiso’s stock delivery. Another potential option, if placing faith in Tahir’s mixed bag is eschewed, is Johan Botha. He would at least offer a specialist off-spinner who bowls cleverly in limited overs contests. While we’re at it, why not make him captain? Perhaps there lies the answer to his omission.
South Africa’s quicks will have a more lively wicket to operate on in Pallekele, but by no means will it be full of pace and bounce. Spin will still be a key feature, and I fear that if the Proteas persist with the same game plan that has failed them twice in a row, they’re in for another beating.
BEST: Highest Opening Partnership, South Africa 1/1
Tharanga has looked uncomfortable against Morne Morkel, who has got him out twice already this tour. With Amla’s injury, it looks as if Colin Ingram will make a return to this squad in what could possibly be his last bid for a permanent place. He’ll be strongly motivated to score runs alongside a comfortable Alviro Petersen.
VERDICT: Sri Lanka 13/20
Their batsmen have the mettle to form partnerships, their bowlers are wily and keep a tidy line and length. They’re getting the basics right but, Sangakkara’s magical innings aside, will need the younger portion of their team to start justifying their place. This the perfect place to do it. Back them to wrap up the series.