JOHANNESBURG – A typically flamboyant half century by Quinton de Kock backed up another top class performance from South Africa’s bowlers as the tourists claimed a 2-0 lead in the five-match One-Day International series against Sri Lanka on Wednesday.
Just as the Sri Lankans dominated the two Tests, so the Proteas have looked the more superior of the two teams since they switched to coloured clothes.
Even given the problems Sri Lanka have had recently - losing their coach and captain to suspensions, while another player was suspended for breaching the Sri Lankan Cricket Board’s Code of Conduct - South Africa deserve plenty of credit for how they’ve turned around their fortunes on this tour.
Angelo Mathews again chose to bat first after winning the toss and Sri Lanka again handed the initiative to the South Africans early on with Lungi Ngidi picking up two wickets in the second over of the innings.
Unlike last Sunday when they slumped to 36/5 in the ninth over, on Wednesday the Sri Lankan top order showed some back bone, with Niroshan Dickwella leading the way with an aggressive innings of 69 (78b, 10x4).
He played shots all around the wicket, but it was his deft use of the late cut, which stood out. Dickwella shared an important partnership of 67 for the fifth wicket with Mathews, but his dismissal in the 26th over was probably the difference between a target of 290 and what Sri Lanka eventually set the Proteas.
Mathews scored a neat unbeaten 79 (111b, 6x4) but was hamstrung by having to marshall the lower order and so couldn’t be overly aggressive in his approach.
While Ngidi and Kagiso Rabada were again good with the new ball, the major improvement in South Africa’s bowling came from the two young seam bowling all-rounders; Andile Phehlukwayo and Wiaan Mulder.
That duo conceded 64 runs in a combined six overs in the first ODI, but on Wednesday displayed far better discipline and control to ensure Sri Lanka’s scoring rate never reached any great heights through the middle overs.
Phehlukwayo’s variety also caught the eye and the‘knuckle ball’ that bowled Suranga Lakmal late on in the Sri Lankan innings was a highlight of his performance. He finished with 3/45 in nine overs while Mulder claimed 1/26 from seven. Ngidi finished with 3/50.
While left-arm wrist spinner Tabraiz Shamsi failed to pick up a wicket, he deserves credit for his part in keeping the Sri Lankan batsmen in check. He conceded 21 runs in his first two overs, but still finished with figures of 0/43 in a full 10-over ration.
South Africa’s openers benefited from dreadful fielding from the Sri Lankans early on in the run chase.
Hashim Amla was dropped on 4 in the fourth over and Quinton de Kock was on 18 in the sixth when he was dropped - Kusan Rajitha, on debut the unlucky bowler on each occasion.
In addition the Sri Lankan ground fielding was akin to that of a c-grade club team and as a result what could have been a tricky chase, was given a flying start as the South African opening pair shared a stand of 91 in just 14 overs.
Amla looked the best he has all tour, utilising the sweep effectively against the spinners to make a run-a-ball 43 hitting six fours in the process.
De Kock was outstanding. Although it didn’t appear as if he was scoring quickly the quality and impishness of his shot-making ensured South Africa remained well ahead of the required run rate.
There were a number of high quality drives, a delicious lofted shot over midwicket for six and a cheeky late paddle to fine leg off Akila Dananjaya - Sri Lanka’s best bowler - in an innings of 87 (78b, 13x4, 1x6).
Faf du Plessis (49) and JP Duminy (32) again looked in good touch but there will be more concerns about the form of Aiden Markram who got himself into a terrible position against Dananjaya and was caught behind for 3.
In six innings across the Tests and first two ODIs, Markram has a highest score of 19, and has looked all at sea against the home team’s spinners.
The third match is in Kandy on Sunday.
Sri Lanka 244/8
South Africa 246/6
South Africa won by 4 wickets