Cape Town - The last time South Africa
played Sri Lanka in a one-day international at St George’s Park, a certain
Jonty Rhodes pulled the hosts out of peril to engineer a hard-fought victory.
You may instantly imagine that that was a
long time ago ... and it was.
Rhodes remains a naturally effervescent
character, but he is also 47 and been retired from international cricket since
That game was in December 2000 - meaning a
gap of more than 16 years since these foes last locked horns in Port Elizabeth
at 50-overs level; that dormancy is pleasingly broken on Saturday (10:00 start)
when the first ODI of the latest series is contested.
South Africa had been set a pretty modest
target (yes, even then) of 222 for victory, and were 91 for four when the
restless, indefatigable little KwaZulu-Natalian took guard and then a no more
gratifying 143 for six when Mark Boucher was dismissed ... advantage Sri Lanka,
But Rhodes and Lance “Zulu” Klusener had
other ideas, steering the home side through choppy waters to triumph without
further mishap in the wickets column, and Rhodes earned man-of-the-match for
his critical, 80-ball knock of 61 not out.
There have been three clashes in all
between these foes at the ground, the earlier ones having been in 1994 (SA win)
and 1998 (the lone Sri Lankan victory in PE thus far).
The islanders have also played one
additional ODI at St George’s Park, the not unimportant business of the CWC
2003 semi-final against Australia, when they were well beaten by the eventual
So their win percentage rate in PE is a
meagre 25 percent.
But if you were a South African
conspiratorially thinking “bogey ground for the ‘Lankans” as you weighed up
prospects for Saturday’s opener, you might also do well to bear in mind that
the Proteas aren’t exactly all-singing and all-dancing themselves in the format
at the ground.
They have only won five of their last 10
ODIs at St George’s, nothing to write home about with any enthusiasm.
Still, the Proteas did snap a three-game PE
losing sequence when they whipped Australia – as more or less happened in all
four other matches in the series - by six wickets in their last sampling of the
ground at ODI level on October 9.
The Aussies were skittled for 167, with
most of the damage (4/40) done by the now-departed Kyle Abbott, and South Africa
didn’t raise much sweat chasing down the humble requirement in reply.
There is probably a renewed sense of energy
and belief in the ‘Lankan camp after their timely 2-1 win in the Twenty20
series, and also the knowledge that St George’s Park may prove the ground that
best suits them of all they will play at in the five-match roster.
Then again, there’s a certain déjà vu at
play here: when the tourists similarly opened their Test series account in Port
Elizabeth a few weeks ago, it was suggested then that it represented their best
chance of a victory in the three scheduled five-dayers.
Instead, though, at this ground with a
time-honoured “slow and low” reputation, the Proteas muscled their way to an
easy 206-run win in the so-called Boxing Day Test.
The ODI pitch for Saturday is obviously
likely to have been prepared with different needs in mind, yet once again it is
tempting to venture that if Sri Lanka don’t get their noses in front at Port
Elizabeth, we could be looking at another tough couple of weeks for them beyond
our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing