Sharjah – In the cold light of day, the Proteas will look back at this epic victory here at the Sharjah International Stadium as the day they took a massive step forward in the country’s overall cricketing history.
For some it may just have been another game. But for those 15 men along with management in the Proteas changeroom and all cricket-lovers back home, in the context of everything they have endured this past week, it will signify a new way that will hopefully be embraced by generations to come.
The Proteas took a collective knee in the fight against racism for the first time prior to the start. Quinton de Kock was back in the line-up and he too bent down before the first ball. And from thereon the cricket god’s took care of the Proteas.
Apart from reviving a campaign that looked dead if not yet buried at the midway stage, the victory will instil a sense of belief within this group of players that they can beat any opponent from any position.
They chased down 144 on a sluggish surface with just one ball remaining, with the outpouring of emotion from David Miller and Kagiso Rabada – the batting heroes for South Africa – upon crossing the line speaking volumes for just how much this all actually meant.
And for so long it looked like Sri Lanka were going to be the party spoilers.
South Africa required 47 runs from the final overs. The double loss of captain and top-scorer Temba Bavuma (46) and Dwaine Pretorius off consecutive deliveries in the 18th over as part of Hasaranga de Silva’s two-over hat-trick further increased the tension in the dugout, before Miller and Rabada reduced it to 25 off 12 balls before 15 runs was required off the final over.
They don’t call it “Miller time” for nothing though as the powerful southpaw clubbed two consecutive sixes off Lahiru Kumara on to the mid-wicket roof before a Rabada outside edge flew down to third man to send the nation into raptures.
For all the euphoria at that moment, the real money shot though had actually come in the penultimate over when Rabada launched a Brian Lara-esque six over long-off to keep the Proteas in the hunt.
"It's quite hard to put everything that's happened over the last couple of days," Bavuma said after the game. "There was a bit of it at the back of the mind but we had a job to do and we had to dig deep. I was a bit tense but I had confidence in David, he hadn't done in a long time for us to credit to him. He's got one of the most beautiful swings, like a golf swing.”
It was a humdinger of a match that culminated in a thrilling climax as South Africa and Sri Lanka had everyone on the edge of their seats for an uncomfortably long period.
Both teams could not put daylight between themselves and their opponents at any stage. This was primarily due to a surface that kept the attention of seamers and spinners alike, and also fielders on both teams also masquerading as tigers on the prowl.
It certainly was a strenuous examination of skill and temperament with Sri Lankan opener Pathum Nissanka the only batter until Miller and Rabada walked to the crease who played with any form of fluency. Nissanka stroked a 58-ball 72 that ensured the 2014 champions battled their way towards a total that would give them a fighting chance.
Tabraiz Shamsi, who passed 50 T20I wickets in the calendar year in the process, was back to his best for the Proteas with haul of 3/17, while Dwaine Pretorius’ status as a premier death bowler continues to gain momentum with another sparking effort of also 3/17.
“Shamsi is a big player for us, a weapon, we've seen wrist-spinners are always effective in this format,” Bavuma added.
🚨 RESULT | #Proteas WIN BY 4 WICKETS— Cricket South Africa (@OfficialCSA) October 30, 2021
Miller and Rabada shared a 15-ball 34-run stand to take the team over the line, while captain Bavuma top-scored with 46.
Earlier, both Shamsi and Pretorius returned figures of 3/17
📝 Scorecard https://t.co/c1ztvrT95P#SAvSL #BePartOfIt pic.twitter.com/GBgUbHLLSM
Sharjah, though, was not a day for individual heroes. The Proteas needed to call on their collective spirit to get them over the line and they can now raise their heads proudly once more and actually begin to start focusing on a title challenge that is steadily gaining momentum at this crucial juncture.
Sri Lanka: 142 all out (Nissanka 72, Shamsi 3/17, Pretorius 3/17)
South Africa: 146/6 (Bavuma 46, Miller 23*, Rabada 15*)
South Africa won by 5 wickets