PE: Proteas, Sri Lanka close 16-year gap

2017-01-28 08:26
russell domingo
Russell Domingo (Gallo Images)
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 2003.

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, maybe?

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 champions.

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 it ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    sri lanka  |  proteas  |  port elizabeth  |  cricket

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