Cape Town - It’s
been as good a reason for a collective, disbelieving and dejected dropping of
jaws among South African sports fans as the events in Brighton at the 2015
Rugby World Cup.
Springboks’ tournament-starting 34-32 defeat to minnows Japan on September 19
that year is widely regarded as the unlikeliest high-profile team-sport humiliation
in the country’s history; I’d say the two-match sting from Sri Lanka,
traditionally so fragile in the southern hemisphere, over the past fortnight
either matches it or at very least runs it desperately close indeed.
mid-table tourists in the Test format only bloodied the Proteas’ noses further
on Saturday as they not only won the second clash in Port Elizabeth to secure
the series 2-0, but did so in a single-session blaze of nerveless, audacious
stroke-play from overnight pair Kusal Mendis and Oshada Fernando.
So as much
as the series in total almost certainly represents South Africa’s poorest in
post-isolation home history, the St George’s Park loss by a gaping margin of
eight wickets - and in just two and a third days - also warrants going down as
extremely hard to eclipse for rank ineptitude on their part.
It was also,
in what might be termed a grim cherry on top of the unpalatable cake, the
second time in as many Tests where the much-vaunted Proteas bowling attack has
taken some pretty contemptuous “tap” toward the key, back end of the match.
bowlers can be more excused, though: white flags have far more frequently been
run up by the batting department in recent months - it has become the
overwhelming, prime area of concern - and the likes of Kagiso Rabada, Duanne
Olivier and company must have been extremely close to a
toss-away-the-tools-in-protest sort of feeling, if they hadn’t already.
the point afterwards that he did not wish to submit it as an excuse, a clearly
hurting captain Faf du Plessis virtually did anyway by implying in his
pitch-side television interview as the dust settled that long-season syndrome
for his charges might have come into play in the shock match and series result.
But it is
hard to feel any major sense of sympathy on that score when you consider how
much more travel-weary the giant-slaying Sri Lankans warrant having been.
in the country at indecently short notice - a budding trend globally these
days, mind - having just suffered successive away series losses in both New
Zealand and Australia.
After a draw
in the first of two clashes with the Black Caps, they were then pulverised in
the decisive second encounter, and suffered heavy losses in each of the pair of
Tests against an Aussie outfit riddled with self-doubt and selection
instability in the lead-up, after their own home series reverse at the hands of
throw in the fact that their record on South African soil has previously been
so feeble, and Sri Lanka were rightly deemed heavy underdogs against a Proteas
side who had just seen off Pakistan 3-0.
they now stand handsomely instead as the first Subcontinent team to win a Test
series here (after 21 failed earlier attempts split between the relevant four
nations) and just the unlikely third country worldwide, outside of
longest-standing foes Australia and England, to do it.
the ‘Lankans can now claim another significant statistical landmark against
South Africa: first ever opponent to be able to boast clean sweeps of each of
the last home and away series between the specific countries in question,
considering that they won a similarly two-Test series on Sri Lankan turf in
2018 also by a 2-0 margin.
Saturday’s earth-shattering result, the Proteas automatically slip a peg to
third on the ICC rankings, now behind both leaders India and those rare
eclipsers of them, New Zealand.
It will be a
fair while before they are in a position - much soul-searching is required in
the meantime, especially in terms of both personnel and shape of their rickety
batting arsenal - to claw back ground, and cynics will say that is unlikely
with any stealth anyway, as an away series against the undoubtedly premier
Indians is the supposed next on the Test roster in October.
shapes as such a formidable challenge, bearing in mind the 0-3 drubbing last
time there, that it might be wise for Cricket South Africa to try to squeeze in
another short series or even once-off Test against a more moderate power ahead
at least enable any new faces - and a clamour on that front is only likely to
intensify, given the increasing weight of statistical under-deliverers in the
team - some sort of opportunity to find their feet at the highest level before
the Indian mission comes around ...
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