South Africa began their 2019 World Cup preparations and post-AB de Villiers era with a comfortable win in the opening ODI against Sri Lanka. The match was all but won in the first nine overs, when Sri Lanka were reduced to 36 for 5, their second-lowest score at five down in home matches. They recovered thanks to a 92-run sixth-wicket stand between Thisara Perera and Kusal Perera, but could not claw their way over 200 and will be furious with their approach against an inexperienced South African attack.
Carelessness outside the off stump and poor shot selection accounted for the majority of Sri Lanka’s dismissals on a surface with only a hint of extra bounce. Kagiso Rabada and Lungi Ngidi benefitted from the more favourable conditions and both showed good discipline, but South Africa’s first and second change seamers, Wiaan Mulder and Andile Phehluwayo, were ordinary. Tabraiz Shamsi, who operated as the sole specialist spinner, showed his worth as a one-day bowler, but Sri Lanka should still have posted a much more challenging total.
Niroshan Dickwella played the first regrettable shot when he chipped a leg-side full toss to midwicket in Rabada’s first over. Kusal Mendis received a better delivery that straightened down the fourth-stump channel, but hung his bat out to offer an edge. Instead of those early dismissals encouraging Upul Tharanga to buckle down, they only increased his urgency for runs. Tharanga set off for a single after pushing a ball from Ngidi to JP Duminy at mid-off. Duminy had one stump to aim at and ran Tharanga out at the non-striker’s end with a direct hit.
Angelo Mathews, playing his 100th ODI as captain, seemed the man to steady things and struck a classy drive down the ground before throwing his bat at a Ngidi delivery to give Hashim Amla a catch at first slip. Nine balls later, Shehan Jayasuriya lunged at a Rabada delivery and was caught behind.
With a ball and an over left in the PowerPlay, half of Sri Lanka’s line-up had been shot out and South Africa had not even moved on from their new-ball bowlers. It could have been even worse when Thisara Perera was given out caught at slip off the last ball of Rabada’s over but for replays showing that the ball had bounced before reaching the fielder.
Thisara made good use of his good fortune and the two Pereras took the fight back to South Africa. In the four overs between the end of Ngidi and Rabada’s spells, and the start of Mulder and Phehlukwayo’s, Sri Lanka more than doubled their score, sprinting from 36 to 82. Thisara brought the team hundred up in the 16th over, with the second fifty taking just 31 balls, and when Shamsi was brought on in the 18th over, it appeared the march would only continue.
Two looseners in Shamsi’s first three balls took Thisara to within a run of a half-century, before Shamsi drew Thisara forward with a loopy delivery that took the edge, ending his stay on 49. JP Duminy was brought on from the other end, and almost removed the other danger man. Three balls after Kusal Perera reached fifty, he tried to cut Duminy but edged, and the chance fell just short of Amla at short third man. Kusal Perera got his own back when he swept Duminy for six over midwicket, but he needed partners to properly challenge South Africa.
Akila Dananjaya was bowled as he backed away from a Shamsi delivery that he intended to cut, leaving Kusal Perera with the tail. He slog-swept Shamsi for four, then crunched him over mid-on for four more to enter the 80s. He was then dropped by Phehlukwayo at mid-on and then tried to reverse-sweep Shamsi but was caught by David Miller at point. Rabada took his fourth when Suranga Lakmal gloved a short-ball to de Kock, and Shamsi had Lahiru Kumara stumped to end Sri Lanka’s innings 15.3 overs before the end of their quota.
Sri Lanka’s only hope of defending the total was to get early wickets and Akila took two of them before the lunch break. With the third ball of his third over, a googly, Akila bowled Hashim Amla, who was looking more fluent that he had during the Tests. With the next delivery, another googly, Akila beat Aiden Marrkam’s inside-edge as he tried to work the ball to the leg-side and trapped the new No.3 lbw.
Quinton de Kock found form and partnered du Plessis in a third-wicket stand of 86 and the pair looked comfortable enough to take South Africa home. While du Plessis built on the small amounts of confidence he gained in the Tests, de Kock showed more of the belligerence he made his name on, and less of the hesitance that has hung around him in the last few months, but it cost him. When Akila returned for his second spell, de Kock danced down the track to try and whip him over mid-wicket but top-edged and Suranga Lakmal took the catch at extra cover, narrowly avoiding a collision with Kusal Perera.
De Kock fell three runs short of fifty, as did du Plessis, when he tried to paddle sweep Lakshan Sandakan but nicked off. With victory still 65 runs away and a middle order known for collapsing, there may have been some South African nerves. But Duminy erased them, playing with authority and sweeping his way to an unbeaten 53 off 32 balls as South Africa completed the chase in 31 overs. (Courtesy ESPN Cricinfo)