The Proteas have managed to regain some much needed pride and confidence in the T20 leg of their tour to Sri Lanka. South Africa were dead and buried for most of the ODI series, succumbing 4-1 to the hosts. They’ve turned things around in the shortest form of the game, following strategy better and dealing with pressure situations. The Sri Lankan side have opted to rest one of their three senior players in each match, in an attempt to force the youth to shoulder more responsibility as the side prepares for the World T20 in Bangladesh next year. While the Proteas will be pleased to have wrapped up the T20 series so quickly, fans should realise that they still have a long way to go on the journey to becoming a top limited overs side again.
Sri Lanka 8/10
South Africa 1/1
The hosts rested Mahela Jayawardene in the first T20 and Dilshan in the second as new captain Dinesh Chandimal and selectors begin to plan for the future. The bulk of the responsibility when it comes to winning matches, or rather putting enough runs on the board whether setting a target or chasing one, has fallen to Sri Lanka’s elder statesmen on far too regular a basis. With that in mind, the younger players are being given an opportunity to show their worth. Unfortunately, the problem with regards to their inconsistency is still apparent. Kusal Perera entered the Sri Lankan setup with expectation but since has disappointed, and averaged less than five in his last seven international innings prior to the last T20. Chandimal himself is in the middle of a terrible run of form, Thirimanne blows mostly cold and Angelo Mathews is in desperate need of a match-winning innings. Their bowling attack, aside from missing Kulasekara, is still strong but they really need one or two of the younger batsmen to support the in-form Kumar Sangakkara.
Better late than never. It seems the Proteas are finally beginning to adapt to the Sri Lankan conditions and keep their bowling discipline in check. The copious amount of wides splayed either side of the wicket in the ODI series was, quite frankly, disgusting. Another bowling development to come out of the first T20 was the improvement at the death. The root cause of the Proteas’ recent woes in the limited overs game has largely been a result of irresponsible death bowling and a failure to adapt to new strategic batting conditions. The T20 game is a virtual simplification of these disciplines and while improvements have been made, I still have my doubts that the Proteas can translate their success to something larger than a bilateral series. There’s still not enough runs coming from the top order and although David Miller seems to be able to clear the boundary at will, I don’t believe South Africa possess the same quality of power-hitters as other nations. They’re lucky enough to be facing a team with a similar issue in that regard, but Sri Lanka were really only a partnership away from victory in both previous fixtures. However, the introduction of Imran Tahir has seemed to make the Proteas competitive in the spin department and has not been treated with same disdain as the two left-arm spinners before him. In the subcontinent, I feel Tahir is a must.
Hambantota is slightly more seam friendly than the likes of Colombo, which bodes well for the Proteas, and played as a fairly even contest between bat and ball for the second T20. There’s no rain predicted, so it should be a full contest.
BEST: Top South African Batsman, JP Duminy 9/2
Duminy has been South Africa’s form batsman of the tour and has been given more responsibility in the ODI team as result of injuries to key players. This has seemingly translated to the T20 arena, where so far he has impressed. Back him to score some runs again.
VERDICT: Sri Lanka 8/10
It’s uncertain who Sri Lanka will choose to rest for this contest. Legitimately, it’s Kumar Sangakkara’s turn, but having been the only decent performer of the first two contests, Sri Lanka may opt to keep him in. Either way, it’s not often that T20 series end in whitewashes due to the uncertainty of the format. I’m inclined to back Sri Lanka to finish strong against a Proteas team that is still far from consistent.