Tahir, Amla lead rout of Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka had lost five ODIs to South Africa already this year, but had hoped that months later, playing for a different trophy, they could apply the lessons learned during that walloping. It wasn’t to be. The gulf in quality between these teams was borne out by the margin of South Africa’s victory: 96 runs.

In fact, South Africa may reflect that despite Hashim Amla’s velvet 103 from 115 balls, and Faf du Plessis’ efficient 75, they were not quite explosive enough during the death.

They had begun indifferently with the ball too, allowing a pugnacious Niroshan Dickwella to unsettle them in the Powerplay, but soon, the middle-overs mastery of Imran Tahir took grip, and Sri Lanka’s chase of 300 lay all but scuttled, as they slumped to 155 for 6 in the 30th over. In wiping the remainder of Sri Lanka’s innings out in clinical fashion, South Africa have confirmed, if there was any doubt, that they are serious contenders for the trophy. Tahir’s final figures were 4 for 27, but his effect on the match was even more substantial than those numbers lay out.

Meanwhile Sri Lanka, for whom it is now a compliment that only one important catch was dropped, gleaned only minor personal positives from the match. Dickwella set the chase off to a roaring start, Upul Tharanga contributed a half-decent fifty, Kusal Perera stood firm at one end while the lower order crashed around him, and Nuwan Pradeep showcased a slowly burgeoning range of skills with the ball. But these are not the kinds of performances that win matches.

The defining periods of play were the middle overs in each innings: having picked the less-aggressive spin option in Seekkuge Prasanna, Sri Lanka allowed Amla and du Plessis to prosper too easily during those overs, and with the bat, lost five wickets for 66 runs from overs 11 to 30.

For Amla, who had set South Africa on course for 299 – an imposing score, given the slightly slow nature of the surface – this innings may not rank as one of his best, but it did get him to the milestone of 25 ODI hundreds in 11 fewer innings than any previous batsman had managed it. He now also sits alongside Sachin Tendulkar, Kumar Sangakkara and Ricky Ponting to have 25 hundreds in both Tests and ODIs.

He was cautious to begin with, as Sri Lanka delivered some exceptionally tight overs. Initially, he hovered in the crease, dabbing and squeezing his way into the innings. Not until the penultimate ball of the first Powerplay did he venture a boundary: a flick off Pradeep over the leg side. He made only 26 off the first 40 balls he faced.

But following the departure of Quinton de Kock, whe nicked off to Pradeep, Amla playd with more ambition. There was a six over long-off, off Asela Gunaratne, in the 19th over, and in the 24th he slunk down the pitch to send Seekkuge Prasanna sailing over the deep midwicket fence. In between those two shots he had reached fifty, and suddenly, was scoring at close to a run a ball.

His partnership with du Plessis was the most fruitful of the innings, and the pair hauled South Africa to a position of strength with their quickening 145-run stand. Amla, having provided the innings its thrust during the overs when du Plessis was feeling his way into the game, allowed his partner to make the riskier plays during the middle overs, saving for himself the role of turning the strike over. In fact, between the 24th and 43rd over – when he got out – he hit only one boundary. South Africa scored only 78 runs in the last 10 overs, thanks again to some tight bowling by Pradeep, with support from Lasith Malinga and Suranga Lakmal. Of those runs, JP Duminy contributed 38 in the space of 20 deliveries.

Sri Lanka will particularly rule the rate at which their innings crashed and burned, because by the end of the first Powerplay, they had scored 55 more runs than South Africa had managed at that stage of the innings. Dickwella led this charge, flitting about the crease to carve the quicks over the offside, then jumping across to leg to whip them over leg, during his 33-ball 41. With Tharanga also batting confidently through those overs, it seemed inconceivable that Sri Lanka would not at least mount a muscular challenge to South Africa’s total.

In the end, Tahir became their downfall, just as he had been during that bilateral series earlier in the year. Dinesh Chandimal got himself run-out trying to get off strike in Tahir’s first over, before Chamara Kapugedara was trapped in front by a googly three balls later. Tharanga then launched a ball into the hands of deep cover, and Asela Gunaratne squirted a catch to square leg, and pretty soon, a rapid start had turned into a procession of wickets. Perera stuck around for 66 balls and hit 44 unbeaten runs, but Sri Lanka were already out of contention for most of his stay. Tahir came back to take the final wicket, and Sri Lanka were all out in the 42nd over. (Courtesy ESPN Cricinfo)