JOHANNESBURG – If Victor Mpitsang and the rest of the selection panel wanted to silence the many critics of their World Cup selection, they’d have been pleased with what the South African spinners delivered in the opening T20 International against Sri Lanka on Friday.
Bjorn Fortuin, playing just his seventh match for the Proteas this year, was the most controversial selection for the T20 World Cup. It wasn’t about Fortuin’s ability – for as he showed Friday, he is an excellent limited overs bowler. It’s rather the fact that Fortuin had played so little in 2021, while George Linde had played more and done so successfully, seemingly booking his ticket for the UAE. Instead on Friday, Linde, having been confirmed as part of the reserves and not the 15-man squad for the tournament, carried drinks.
If Fortuin had paid attention to all the talk about his selection, and may have felt disappointed by it, he didn’t allow it to affect his performance. He opened the bowling, a role he’s accustomed to and one he performed coolly on Friday.
The other less controversial choice for the World Cup was that of Keshav Maharaj. He may not have played a T20 International before Friday’s game, but such has been his form in the last 12 months, that it's clear the 31 year old has an influential role in the South African dressing room.
He also continued with the captaincy for the T20 series having taken over from Temba Bavuma after the first ODI, and once more showed excellent tactical awareness, using the various bowlers at his disposal very well.
In his primary task with the ball, Maharaj was magnificent once more. Again he varied his pace cleverly, and got the ball to grip and spin, which kept the Sri Lankans bogged down.
In all Fortuin and Maharaj - albeit in just one match - went some way towards taking the pressure off Mpitsang for choosing them for the World Cup. Maharaj ‘s four overs cost 19 runs, and included a wicket with his first ball. Fortuin took a wicket with his last ball, clean bowling the Sri Lankan skipper, Dasun Shanaka, and conceded just 24 runs in his four overs. The two left arm spinners bowled 23 dot balls between them, never allowing Sri Lanka’s batsmen the chance to build any rhythm.
The platform for South Africa’s ultimately comfortable win was provided by the batsmen, with the returning Quinton de Kock (36) and Reeza Hendricks (38) sharing an opening partnership of 73 that came off 59 balls.
The innings slowed briefly when the pair were dismissed, both falling to Sri Lankan leg-spinner, Wanindu Hasaranga. However once Aiden Markram and David Miller – who like De Kock missed the One-Day series – came to grips with the pitch, they provided the innings with some crucial impetus.
Markram played well for his 48, that came off 33 balls, and included one four and two sixes. Miller made 25 off 15 balls. The duo’s fourth wicket partnership was worth 65 runs, coming off only 35 balls and getting South Africa to a total that was just above par at the vast Premadasa Stadium.
Despite Sri Lankan opener Dinesh Chandimal making an unbeaten 66 (54b, 5x4, 2x6), the hosts were never able to keep up with the required scoring rate.
The second match in the series will be played on Sunday.