DURBAN - Even measured against some of the truly woeful days that South Africa had endured on their tour of Sri Lanka, Tuesday's sorry capitulation with the bat in the only T20 international in Colombo bordered on farcical.
There was genuine fear that they would be roundly thrashed by their hosts after being rolled for just 98, but a determined bowling effort restored a semblance of pride, ending in a three-wicket defeat.
Whatever the team talk was during the changeover, it did the trick, because a more palatable Proteas emerged with the ball, led by Kagiso Rabada. The spearhead snatched two wickets in his opening over to give his team a sniff. He bowled out his spell upfront, returning figures of 2/24.
Following closely behind him was Tabraiz Shamsi and Junior Dala, who both started loosely, but reined it in and bagged two scalps a piece, to keep the tourists interested for longer than most would have anticipated.
Shamsi’s first wicket was as the result of a quite brilliant catch by Heinrich Klaasen at backward short-leg off a startled Angelo Mathews. It was pure instinct, and perhaps SA’s best moment on a night to forget.
The Proteas, having won the toss, served up their lowest ever score in the format, and confirmed their scrambled headspace against spin of reasonable quality. The result in Colombo will be forgotten by the time the Proteas land back home, but teams around the world will have noted their calamitous approach to the turning ball.
Five batsmen fell trying to sweep, normal or reverse, and the wisdom of taking a knee and a swish when in doubt must be revisited. Between now and their next assignment, there has to be some sort of a Plan B sorted out for managing the spinning ball in all limited-overs cricket, or they run the risk of being targeted with slow poison in major matches.
In between the Test series loss, and this meaningless T20 exercise, they did bag an ODI series win, led by the rejuvenated JP Duminy. After the end of his Test career, he could have slipped away and become the forgotten man of SA cricket. Instead, Sri Lanka 2018 may yet be remembered for the arrival of the Renaissance Man.