For brief periods, Sri Lanka threatened to open some familiar wounds in the South African camp, but just couldn’t sustain the promise for long enough in their Group B clash of the ICC Champions Trophy 2017 at The Oval on Saturday.
It resulted in a successful start for world No. 1 South Africa, which defended its 299 for 6 to bowl Sri Lanka out for 203 in 41.3 overs despite an initial scare, Imran Tahir bagging four wickets to headline the bowling effort.
The 96-run win was set up by the run machine in Hashim Amla, who crossed more milestones by becoming the first South African and the fastest ever to reach 25 One-Day International centuries. He scored his runs in the same manner he breaks records – with ease, without fuss, and without too many even noticing. It was also mighty effective and his 103 was just the knock South Africa needed on a relaid pitch that wasn’t exactly the batting paradise the venue has been of late.
Amla’s knock was crucial as the game was won, and lost, in the middle overs of each innings.
South Africa bossed the period while batting as Amla shared a 145-run stand for the second wicket with Faf du Plessis (75) after a slow start. Sri Lanka fought well on either side of the partnership despite having only four specialist bowlers, but with the bat, the Asian side went the other way, collapsing after being 94 for 1 in the 12th over.
After opting to field, Sri Lanka came out with a definite and effective plan of bowling straight, and not giving any room to Quinton de Kock and Amla to free their arms. De Kock managed only four runs off his first 20 deliveries and took 24 balls for his first boundary, while Amla took 28 for his as South Africa scored only 32 runs in the first ten overs.
Nuwan Pradeep reaped the reward from the pressure built by Lakmal and Malinga when he induced a de Kock edge to the wicket-keeper in the 13th over. Pradeep nearly had another one soon when du Plessis skied a short ball to fine-leg, only for Malinga to miss the chance.
It was a costly mistake for despite the good start, Sri Lanka had to rely on Asela Gunaratne for ten overs and the pitch rendered Seekkuge Prasanna pretty harmless. Du Plessis and Amla weren’t going to miss out. In typical style, both pressed on the accelerator in stealth mode building the partnership with plenty of ones and twos. Without much risk, South Africa reached 163 after 30 overs, adding 131 runs between overs 10 and 30.
It made one wonder where the next wicket would come from, but against the run of play, Sri Lanka got two in two overs.
Du Plessis first fell pulling Pradeep to mid-wicket where Dinesh Chandimal took an excellent catch diving to his right. Prasanna then got the big one – AB de Villiers falling when he lobbed a simple catch to cover off the leading edge while attempting to pull.
Amla and David Miller rebuilt once again for a brief while, with Amla crossing his century in the 42nd over by nudging Lakmal to fine-leg. But both fell in successive overs to leave South Africa on 232 for 5 by the 43rd over after being at a comfortable 189 for 1 in the 34th. That it got to 299 eventually was down to JP Duminy’s late cameo of 38 not out from 20 balls.
Ball in hand, Wayne Parnell and Kagiso Rabada took a cue from the Sri Lankan pacers and attempted to bowl straight, but were not as tight in the execution.
And, unlike the South African openers, Niroshan Dickwella and Upul Tharanga were not going to go slow and steady. Dickwella disturbed the lines by making room and found boundaries either side of the pitch, slashing and swatting with disdain. The openers also enjoyed some good fortune as Rabada dropped tough return chances when Tharanga was on two and Dickwella on 21.
The entertainment came to an end when Dickwella slashed Morne Morkel’s second ball to third man, ending the 69-run stand in the ninth over. But instead of getting bogged down, Tharanga took charge and slammed Parnell for two more boundaries, taking Sri Lanka to 87 in ten overs.
South Africa was beginning to look out of ideas, but if it was looking for some inspiration, it came from the captain. De Villiers first caught Kusal Mendis with a well-timed leap at mid-on off Chris Morris’s first over and soon had Dinesh Chandimal short of his wicket with a brilliant direct hit from mid-off. Imran Tahir foxed Chamara Kapugedera with a googly in the same over, completing the shift of momentum.
After the rapid start, Sri Lanka suddenly struggled to keep pace. There were no boundaries between overs 15 and 22, and the pressure finally got to Tharanga, the stand-in captain, who sliced Tahir to deep cover in the 26th over. And when Gunaratne too fell in a similar fashion four overs later, Sri Lanka had slipped from 116 for 2 to 155 for 6.
Kusal Perera kept the hopes alive for the Sri Lankan-dominated packed house for a brief while with an unbeaten 44, but it was too little.
Amla, Tahir star as South Africa thrash Sri Lanka
Amla, Tahir star as South Africa thrash Sri Lanka