South Africa overwhelm Sri Lanka after Hashim Amla hundred creates platform
On a sunlit, boisterous afternoon at the home of the unceasing beer tap supply system, South Africa eased to a 96-run victory over Sri Lanka in their Champions Trophy Group B opener. South Africa always looked ahead of the game. Batting first they posted a solid-looking 299, driven on by an effortlessly fine hundred from Hashim Amla, his 25th in one-day internationals, another high-class batsman showing the value of reading a pitch and accumulating with care.
“It was an amazing innings,” AB de Villiers, his captain, said. “He did really well to assess the conditions, there was quite a lot in that wicket early on.”
In reply Sri Lanka were hauled in mid-chase by a fine, aggressive spell of leg-spin from the ever-exuberant Imran Tahir, a bowler who greets every wicket, even a dragged-down mishit to deep cover, with a wildly joyful sprint, like a man fleeing a burning building while simultaneously hearing news of a million-pound jackpot win.
Tahir took four for 27 and bowled with accuracy and aggressive variation. If South Africa’s batting did not really fire, the bowling looks to have plenty of edge and they also fielded with vim. De Villiers spoke at length about the need for calmness and intensity. Tahir only qualifies for one of these, but De Villiers rated his performance “close to a 10 out of 10”.
To make things worse for Sri Lanka a dawdling over rate was punished with an uncontested two-match ban for the stand-in captain, Upul Tharanga, whose team were four overs short of where they should have been towards the end of South Africa’s innings. All the players lose 60% of their match fees, too.
The regular captain, Angelo Mathews, had one too many debilitating twangs and strains. Tharanga won the toss and bowled, fearful perhaps of some nibble in the air on a sunny south London morning with dark clouds still skudding overhead after the end-of-the-world thunderstorms of the previous day.
His bowlers were tight early on. Lasith Malinga was back for the first time in a year and a half and he mixed tight lines with wides and full tosses, still able to dip the odd full ball on to the batsman’s toes. The feisty Quinton de Kock was becalmed, eventually nicking Nuwan Pradeep fiddling outside off stump.
Faf du Plessis was dropped in slapstick fashion by Malinga, dithering under a top-edged pull. After which he ran hard to reach his 50 off 52 balls, facing some ordinary change bowers. In this team the entire Sri Lanka top-six moonlight as wicketkeepers, depriving Tharanga of the usual strong hand of fill-ins and part-time dart merchants.
Amla eased along, lifting Asela Gunaratne over mid-off, cuffing and slapping anything short square on both sides. He is often a little obscured by De Villiers and the Virat-Kane-Joe rat pack but Amla’s record bears comparison with any of these. Only Virat Kohli has more ODI hundreds while averaging more than 50.
De Villiers appeared briefly before spooning a catch to midwicket via a wild, splay-footed pull off something flat and short from Seekkuge Prasanna. Chris Morris biffed usefully. JP Duminy spanked the last ball of the innings into the groundsman’s shed. But South Africa still looked a little short.
Sri Lanka have a fine lineage of spiky little wicketkeeper-batsmen and Niroshan Dickwella set off at a decent lick in their reply, walloping Wayne Parnell through cover and then punting Kagiso Rabada high over midwicket.
For a while Sri Lanka attacked the chase with some hunger before Dickwella was winkled out by Morne Morkel for 41. At which point three moments of brilliance in the field killed the game.
First De Villiers took a standing jump to catch Kusal Mendis at midwicket with one hand just as the ball seemed to have cleared him. This soon became an AB double, the captain hurling down the stumps to run out Dinesh Chandimal. Three balls later Chamara Kapugedera was lbw first ball to Tahir’s excellent googly, never the greatest fate for an international batsman.
At the halfway point Sri Lanka were 154 for four and still on target. At which point Tahir turned the screw. Tharanga, who will only play again in the tournament if his side reach the semi-finals, had completed a fluent half-century but he was caught, playing a pointless lofted drive to David Miller at deep cover, sparking further excitement from the bowler who could probably produce a competitive time at the world indoor 60m heats if the starter’s gun could be synchronised with a successful lbw appeal.
With him went Sri Lanka’s best hopes and the match ended in a rush.