Cape Town – All-rounder Andile Phehlukwayo was due for a better bowl … and duly delivered it.
Top-order batsman Aiden Markram badly required a decent vigil at the crease … but sadly only deepened his present hole.
Those were among the salient features of South Africa’s second successive, convincing victory over Sri Lanka in their five-match one-day international series at Dambulla on Wednesday.
The Proteas now travel to Pallekele for the third clash on Sunday (06:15 SA time) targeting an early series kill-off, which would also then give them greater liberty to use some currently idle members of their squad in a pair of dead-rubber contests.
As in game one, Faf du Plessis’s side chased down their target – steeper this time -- with plenty of overs in hand, a reflection of their increasing general confidence and levels of aggression at the crease, especially against the wily home spinners.
If you wanted to be hyper-critical, you could argue that they would have been run a lot closer, or possibly even beaten, had Sri Lanka’s catching and ground-fielding not been beyond abject much of the time – and especially within the first 10 overs of the tourists’ innings.
Both of South Africa’s so often productive opening alliance, Quinton de Kock and Hashim Amla, had early lives courtesy of relative dollies being dropped in the mid-wicket area, and instead amassed a partnership of 91 in 14 overs that was a nerve-settling foundation for a requirement of 245.
De Kock was particularly ruthless at cashing in on his “gift”, making his way to an increasingly elegant and authoritative 87 off 78 deliveries for the player-of-the-match award.
The left-hander may have had a rough old time of it at the crease in the prior Test series – which Proteas player didn’t? – but at ODI level he has been in excellent form across the planet for well over a year and this was simply a continuation.
Immediately below him in the order, however, Markram’s broad Sri Lankan tour misery only lingers.
You could see him making a conscious effort to use his feet more and adopt a positive approach against the slow fare, but it was also a fleeting observation to make because he fell for an 11-ball innings of three, edging a leg-break from multi-faceted Akile Dananjaya when seemingly playing for his stock “offie”.
Markram has now managed a mere 44 runs across all six tour matches, and eight knocks, meaning an average of 5.5 and it has probably reached a point where giving him a break is a sounder formula than just prolonging his troubles and aggravating any self-doubt – he remains an outstanding long-term prospect for the country.
The Proteas have not yet deployed either of Heinrich Klaasen (he has been nursing a groin injury) or the ODI-uncapped Reeza Hendricks, so Pallekele might be the apt place for a minor tweak to the batting.
If necessary, skipper Du Plessis, who is unlikely to be too mortified by regularly getting out in the high forties against the ‘Lankans of late, could shift up one spot to No 3 where he has operated with success for most of his career in the format.
But if Markram is presently experiencing one of those marked trough periods that afflict all cricketers at some juncture, another young gun in Phehlukwayo produced a timely surge in bowling form on Wednesday after a mini-slump of his own.
The 22-year-old has a pleasing array of skills with the ball, but can sometimes try to be just a tad too “clever” and surrender his composure and core disciplines to a degree.
Here he was still resourceful – Sri Lankan commentators lauding his “knuckle ball”, for example – but also struck a better balance in keeping some deliveries simply in the right areas.
Aided by the other fresh-faced seamer in the middle period of the innings, Wiaan Mulder, also tightening his act appreciably in game two, Phehlukwayo thoroughly atoned for going wicketless and sometimes leaking runs excessively in four previous ODIs (three against India, plus the first meeting with the ‘Lankans).
He grabbed three for 45 in nine overs, including a demonstration of pleasing cool-headedness – ditto pace spearhead Kagiso Rabada at the other end – in the last five “death” overs of the home knock.
Statistically, this meant his third-best analysis in his 27 ODI appearances, following four-fors against Australia at Centurion and Bangladesh at Paarl.
It would be premature to start trumpeting the Proteas too loudly based on the first two contests with a Sri Lankan team that has a dreadful current record in bilateral ODI series.
Right now, Angelo Mathews’ outfit barely look a top-tier nation when it comes to team cohesion and lamentable basics – the captain did confess that “we were a bunch of schoolkids” in fielding terms.
But these Proteas are also dancing about as fast they can, and largely exuding healthy professionalism and vigour …
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