Sri Lanka in SA
Hot Proteas gnaw at Oz lead
Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Proteas celebrate (Gallo Images)
Cape Town - A seemingly resurgent South Africa are set to make further inroads on Australia’s once comfortable lead at the top of the ICC one-day international rankings.
All power and passion in Paarl, the Proteas showed in East London on Saturday that they can also tick boxes for calmness and composure as they knocked over Sri Lanka almost as convincingly as they had done in the winelands, in many respects, to go 2-0 up in the five-match series.
At least the Lankans performed several times better with the blade than they had done in the feeble submission at Boland Park, but it still wasn’t enough to truly stretch AB de Villiers and his merry men.
That South Africa got home with only eight balls to spare perhaps suggests it was a bit of a scramble to the five-wicket win ... those who saw it will know that it really wasn’t; the Proteas pretty much held the whip hand from the moment in the second over of the day when Faf du Plessis’s bit of brilliance in the field led to the run-out of luckless visiting captain Tillakaratne Dilshan for a duck.
There was arguably no other stage in the rest of the contest - hence portions of the big Buffalo Park crowd getting just a tad too blotto, distracted and unruly, it seemed - when Sri Lanka looked likely winners despite their better competitiveness than in game one.
So the Proteas are on track to achieve their start-out objective: put the series to bed as quickly as possible and be in a position to give some slightly more peripheral squad members exposure in one or two dead-rubber games, while resting such treasured assets as Jacques Kallis for challenges a bit further up the road.
They will be doing this even if there is a bit of a threat - especially as Hashim Amla has pulled out just before the midway stage to be with his wife ahead of the imminent birth of their first child - of a dearth of senior personnel slightly hampering their quest for a 5-0 sweep.
Just by winning the series South Africa are assured of standalone second place on the ICC rankings, a status they assumed after the East London triumph anyway as they moved to a 119 rating, two points ahead of now third-placed India on 117.
If they do whitewash the currently vulnerable Lankans, they will leap to 123, thus making up significant ground on the table-topping Aussies (130).
Australia are next in ODI action when they host a triangular Commonwealth Bank series with India and Sri Lanka from February 5 to March 8.
The Proteas play a three-match ODI series as part of their broader tour of New Zealand, with the first game scheduled for February 25 in Wellington.
South Africa will be hoping to make safe the Sri Lanka series in Bloemfontein on Tuesday (a day/night affair), and with a squad sporting three changes from the one that did encouraging, hard yards in Paarl and East London.
Both Amla and Rory Kleinveldt (injured) drop out as enforced changes, and with Kallis also rested
as anticipated, the three additions to the mix are Alviro Petersen, whose blistering recent first-class form could hardly be ignored, summer Test sensation Vernon Philander and Colin Ingram.
So the remaining games are an ideal opportunity to test the team’s mettle without top-order stalwarts like Kallis and Amla; the latter currently tops the rankings for best ODI batsman worldwide and did his status no harm at all with a typically sprightly 55 even on Saturday’s sluggish pitch.
“You could make a fortune bottling Hashim’s temperament,” commentator Mike Haysman rightly noted.
It was encouraging, all the same, to see someone like JP Duminy advanced up the order to No 4 and making the most of the opportunity, his unbeaten 66 coupled with some tight overs of off-spin earning him the player-of-the-match mantle.
Petersen presumably will return in Bloemfontein straight to the starting XI, partnering his current Test ally Graeme Smith at the top of the order - he was stationed out of position at No 5 in the third ODI against West Indies at Dominica in May 2010, his last appearance in the format.
Seasoned Smith continues to flirt dangerously with the axe, although with Kallis and Amla out of the picture his on-field experience will be valuable for the remainder of the series.
The big left-hander would have been gutted to be dismissed to an ill-timed pull after doing sound donkeywork en route to 28 at Buffalo Park, but his opening stand of 76 with Amla in just under 17 overs represented a vital start to the successful chase and should have at least prevented his critics from baying only louder.
There is very little wrong with the Proteas’ bowling: five of the six bowlers used on Saturday traded in a tight, disciplined range between 4.30 and 4.83 runs per over, and even Dale Steyn, the lone ranger to travel at six to the over, was victim of some streaky boundaries as Lankan batsmen adopted a hoik-and-hope approach to some 145km/h thunderbolts ...*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing