PORT ELIZABETH – South Africa cruised to a fourth consecutive victory in the ODI series against Sri Lanka on Wednesday, but they might have left Port Elizabeth with more questions than they arrived with.
The six-wicket triumph at St George’s Park was satisfying enough, and they again saw Quinton de Kock and Faf du Plessis underline their importance to any World Cup ambitions.
The duo have scored nearly two-thirds of the Proteas’ runs all summer, and they again stood out on Wednesday.
De Kock (51 off 57 balls) went to a fifth half-century score in a row, while the home captain was untroubled in an entertaining 43 off 38 balls.
It’s elsewhere that South Africa still have questions.
Reeza Hendricks continued a lean patch, with a curious eight off 16 balls. Then, with the top-order door ajar, Aiden Markram made easy work of getting to 29 before top-edging Rajitha to the deep, and ending an innings that had promised so, so much.
That has been his way for most of his short ODI career.
It is difficult to understand, but Markram is yet to cement his place in the World Cup side, because he is yet to display the ruthless streak required in knockout cricket.
In the form he has shown for the Titans, on an easy wicket against a team already resigned to losing, he could have made his first half-century since his debut 66.
But he didn’t, and the quiet concerns persist.
For their part, the visitors tried hard to get the match over with before the sun had even set over Summerstrand.
Some of their shot-making in the first hour was shambolic, as they refused to apply themselves at the crease. One by one, they fell to ambitious strokes…
1 for 13.
2 for 19.
3 for 51.
Then 4 for 51.
5 for 69.
Six for 71.
"Catches win matches" right?— Cricket South Africa (@OfficialCSA) March 13, 2019
DYK: 9 of the 10 wickets taken by the Proteas in today's match were caught.
Have a look at how the boys went about their catching on the field 👇#ProteaFire #SAvSL pic.twitter.com/hES2JKsdG0
It was a procession that threatened to beat the Port Elizabeth rush-hour traffic. The height – or depth – of their disdain was when captain Lasith Malinga dozed off while taking a single.
Like a nine-year-old playing his first game of serious cricket, the visiting skipper pranced into the popping crease, and got run out while his bat came back to earth.
It was ridiculous, and betrayed a lack of interest of what is actually happening out there.
There was a different attitude when the Test series was on, an urgency and eagerness to get on top. And stay on top.
Malinga’s reign in the 50-over series has been the complete opposite. It is hard to understand quite how he became the captain, aside from being the highest paid player from the island.
Whatever the criteria, Sri Lanka must surely revisit it before the World Cup.
But, what they do is not South Africa’s concern. The Proteas would have been very happy with how they got nine wickets, but the final scalp became another messy affair.
Not for the first time this summer, and certainly not the first against this foe.
Anrich Nortje, playing an international in front of his home crowd for the first time, watched his figures bloat from an impressive 3/19 to a frightful 3/57 in no time.
He quickly realised that the pace that is a gift in domestic cricket can be a curse at the highest level.
Isuru Udana clattered 78 off just 57 balls to register the fourth highest score by a No 9 in ODI history, and it was Nortje bore the brunt of the brutal assault.
First he was put on the roof of the press box, then clobbered for two more sixes, including one that went over the hospitality suites, and right out of the ground.
Nortje’s skipper Du Plessis walked off with a comforting arm around the fast bowler, discussing a few things that might have been done differently.
4/5 for the Proteas ✅— Cricket South Africa (@OfficialCSA) March 13, 2019
1 More match remains in the series and the prospect of a series whitewash is still on.
They win the 4th Momentum ODI by 6 wickets. De Kock shone brightest with the bat as he brought up his 4th score of 50 or more in the series.#ProteaFire#SAvSL pic.twitter.com/NKDsC44sPq
It didn’t matter in the match, but there were warning signs for South Africa in the latter stages of the innings.
Ruthless is a word that they will have to hold dear in the World Cup.
On Wednesday, they could have rolled Sri Lanka for 100, and then trounced them by nine wickets.
Instead, they let them steal their way to 189, and then the Proteas lost some loose wickets on the way home.
It didn’t matter on Wednesday, but it will matter more soon enough.
The fifth and final ODI will be a day-night affair at Newlands on Saturday (1pm start).@whamzam17