JUNE 28, 2019
Brief Scorecard: South Africa 206 for 1 (du Plessis 96*, Amla 80*) beat Sri Lanka 203 (Avishka 30, Pretorius 3 for 25, Morris 3 for 46) by nine wickets
Chester-le-Street, UNITED KINGDOM – How England must wish this was the match report for their meeting with Sri Lanka in Leeds. South Africa, already out of semi-final calculations, restricted Sri Lanka to mediocrity with the bat and then formed a single definitive partnership to run down the target with 11.4 overs to spare at a sun-drenched Chester-le-Street.
There was ruefulness as well as proficiency about the 175-run union between the captain Faf du Plessis and the senior pro Hashim Amla, for their class and composure served not only to leave Sri Lanka with only the merest chances of semi-final qualification but also demonstrated that with South Africa will go an awful lot of quality out of this World Cup.
At the same time Sri Lanka’s many limitations were re-exposed, once the threat of Lasith Malinga had been neutralised. He had fewer runs to play with due to a superb spell from the recalled Dwaine Pretorius, with patchy support from Kagiso Rabada, Chris Morris and Imran Tahir, but even so was countered with a combination of positive intent and solid defence that will leave Eoin Morgan’s men wondering how they had managed to fall short.
For Sri Lanka, qualification would now require two wins from their remaining games plus a collective collapse from England, Pakistan and Bangladesh ahead of them. For South Africa, there will only be regret that a display of this sort could not have been conjured earlier on when it truly mattered.
It would be easy to suggest that Rabada’s first-ball dismissal of Dimuth Karunaratne, who seemed not to pick up a rising, cramping delivery that he flinched at and fended off the glove to an exultant du Plessis in the slips, set the tone for the day. But that would be to undersell how well South Africa pulled things back from the subsequent stand of 67 between Kusal Perera and the highly promising Avishka Fernando.
Together they made the most of some loose bowling with ebullient strokeplay, allowing Sri Lanka to place a third entry into the 10 most productive Powerplays of the tournament. South Africa appeared for a moment to be facing a chase well in excess of 300, before Pretorius set out on the spell of medium-fast seam, disciplined in the best traditions of Craig Matthews among others, that was to define the match.
Pretorius did not start well, and had gone for three boundaries in seven balls when Avishka flicked him insouciantly over straight midwicket to the boundary. But Avishka’s desire to carry on at a rising rate was to cost him, when he tried to go down the ground and succeeded only in skying to du Plessis at mid-off. From that ball to the finish of his spell, Pretorius’ figures read 7.2-2-8-3, underlining his success in choking up the remainder of the Sri Lankan innings.
The defeat of Kusal, cramped for room and dragging onto the stumps, was vital in pushing Angelo Mathews and Kusal Mendis into their shells, and both were to perish when they attempted, at last to break out. Take out the pair of 30s for Kusal and Avishka, in fact, and the rest of the innings was tepid stuff. Sixty-seven for 2 from the first 10 overs gave way to a mere 136 for 8 from the remaining 39.3 until Sri Lanka were bowled out.
Avishka Fernando walks off after his dismissal for 30- IDI via Getty Images
Over the course of those overs Rabada and Morris did well to pull back from early expense, while Tahir bowled tidily without giving Chester-le-Street the chance to glimpse one of his vaudevillian wicket celebrations. The only spin victim, Dhananjaya de Silva, premeditating a reverse sweep so poorly as to be comical, fell to JP Duminy. Like Tahir, he is set to make his exit from the South African side at the conclusion of the tournament.
Commencing their chase in brilliant sunshine, South Africa were able to capitalise on Malinga’s search for wickets, as Amla was able to pierce the field on both sides of the wicket. Quinton de Kock looked similarly fluent, but his stay was ended by one of those wondrous Malinga wobblers, this time a yorker that swerved from off to leg just too late for the left-hander to adjust, and causing the leg bail to be flicked off.
Exultant as Malinga was, he was unable to suppress Amla, and at the other end du Plessis hit through the line of the ball with burgeoning confidence. Their comfort was aided by a surface notably easier for batting than the Headingley pitch on which Sri Lanka had cornered England, and there was also the lack of tension in the limbs from a team that had already been eliminated. Nonetheless, the busy nature of South Africa’s approach should be taken note of, given there will doubtless be more nervy chases to come in this tournament.
Amla passed fifty first, followed by du Plessis, and of the bowlers only the legbreaks of Jeevan Mendis caused any real discomfort. On 68, Amla was given lbw on the sweep, and du Plessis encouraged a review. Upon seeing one replay, Amla was happy enough to walk off, but turned on his heels when ball-tracking showed the ball had pitched marginally outside leg stump before turning back. Amla offered a gentle chuckle and resumed; victory arrived soon thereafter. Too late, but no less than South Africa deserved this day.