South Africa 222 and 128
Sri Lanka 154 and 197/2
Sri Lanka won by eight wickets
Sri Lanka win the series 2-0
Dimuth Karunaratne’s men went where legends of the sport from the Asian sub-continent that have toured this country before couldn’t.
They whooped, hollered, laughed and shed tears and no one, not Faf du Plessis and the chastened South African cricket fraternity, not those greats from the sub-continent who failed here previously could begrudge them.
Only Sri Lanka’s World Cup win in 1996 will rank higher, but that was achieved with greater players than this group. Karunaratne and his smiling assassins, from the wily old seamer Suranga Lakmal to the flamboyant batsmen like Ochada Fernando playing his second Test and Kusal Mendis and of course Kusal Perera whose name is already stencilled into the annals of history. They’ll become subjects in stories that will be told through the generations in Sri Lanka.
They arrived here with no one giving them a chance, not anyone in Sri Lanka cricket, certainly not anyone in South African cricket and no money man would have given you odds on them winning a Test series here. But they have.
And they went to that historic win at St George’s Park on Saturday by taking it to opponents who were ranked four spots higher than them before the game started. That difference is now three. In fact Sri Lanka have been taking it to South Africa since they got here. Saturday morning was another perfect example thereof.
Fernando and Mendis never let any kind of tension build when they resumed needing 137 runs to win. They left deliveries not targetting the stumps, but when there was width, they threw their hands at the ball and when South Africa pitched the ball up, they drove beautifully - almost arrogantly.
They shared an unbeaten partnership of 164 for the third wicket, with Mendis finishing not out on 84 and Fernando on 75.
The loss will sting South Africa. It will shine a spotlight on a gameplan - utilising fast bowlers to bully opponents, especially those from the sub-continent - that has become one-dimensional. They were over-reliant on it, thought that against this Sri Lankan team, which had been beaten in New Zealand and Australia, endured drama off the field that was almost comical at times, that they could just turn up at the ground and win. That complacency came back to bite them hard.
Although there was nothing wrong with the pitches this series was played on the fact that the batsmen have had to play on surfaces in the last two seasons against India and Pakistan that have so overwhelmingly aided fast bowling has clearly affected techniques and confidence and in that regard Du Plessis and Ottis Gibson bear a lot of responsibility. As does batting coach Dale Benkenstein, who clearly hasn’t been able to provide the requisite strategy or clarity of thinking needed to play on difficult pitches and then the readjustments needed when the pitches are slower as has been the case for these two Tests.
South Africa’s batting, aside from Quinton de Kock - all season - has generally been poor and there will be questions about a few individuals, alongside questions about a team structure that had De Kock batting at no.6, Vernon Philander and then Wiaan Mulder at no.7, when it was clear that an extra frontline batsmen was needed.
Those questions will be set aside in the coming weeks as focus turns matters related to the white ball.
But for now, it’s Sri Lanka who deserve to be celebrated. They went where Tendulkar, Dravid, Mohammad Yousuf, Inzamam, Waqar, Muralitharan, Sangakkara, Jayawardene, Kohli and Dhoni, legends of the sport from the sub-continent have failed to go. Only England and Australia had previously won here. That Sri Lanka should join them, is staggering.