South Africa marked the start of a challenging Champions Trophy campaign with a relatively clinical 96-run victory over Sri Lanka in Saturday’s key Group B fixture at The Oval in London.
The prolific Hashim Amla’s fine century stood at the fore of an imposing total of 299 for six, after which legspinner Imran Tahir’s telling haul of four for 27 restricted the opposition to an entirely insufficient 203 all out in 41.3 overs.
Now with one more than captain AB de Villiers’ 24 tons, Amla became the Proteas’ most prolific ODI centurion en route to a cool, calm and collected 103.
The talismanic right-hander also became the fastest to 25 ODI tons, requiring a mere 151 innings. India’s Virat Kohli and Sachin Tendulkar took 162 and 234, respectively, to reach the milestone.
He enjoyed solid support from test skipper Faf du Plessis, whose arrival after opener Quinton de Kock’s uncharacteristic pedestrianism ensured immediate impetus.
Dropped by fine-leg fielder Lasith Malinga before reaching double figures, du Plessis crafted an influential 75 – and ensured slow bowlers Asela Gunaratne and Seekkuge Prasanna were unable to dictate proceedings.
Malinga and fellow new-ball bowler Suranga Lakmal’s economical lines and lengths had earlier stifled Amla and de Kock’s collective bid to force the pace, so du Plessis’ intent was certainly required – and gratefully accepted by a visibly frustrated de Villiers.
While de Villiers was flummoxed by Prasanna for just four and the left-handed David Miller was undone by Lakmal’s additional bounce, the hard-hitting Chris Morris and inventive JP Duminy were at hand after Amla was run out.
Duminy, deploying premeditated paddles and cheeky laps behind the wicket, struck a brisk 38 not out to Morris’ 20, leaving the Sri Lankans a staunch target of 300.
While openers Upul Tharanga and Niroshan Dickwella duly delivered a 69-run alliance inside nine overs, capitalising on fast bowler Kagiso Rabada’s two dropped return catches, they lacked reinforcement.
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Batsmen three, four and five – in fact – scored just 23 runs between them – and the rest were equally feeble. A first-ball duck for the disappointed Chamara Kapugedera typified Sri Lanka’s struggles against Tahir – and his numerous wrong’uns. The men in blue had gone a bowler short in order to beef up their batting ranks, but both departments ultimately suffered.
The Proteas’ fielding in the recent ODI series against England was questionable, but exemplary on Saturday, with Tahir and de Villiers’ direct-hits – and the latter’s one-handed catch to dismiss the promising Kusal Mendis – testament to the dramatic improvement.
They will, however, need to rethink the new-ball combination of right-armer Rabada and left-armer Wayne Parnell. Perhaps the lanky Morne Morkel should partner Rabada ahead of Parnell.
Sri Lanka were unforgivably sluggish in their over-rate, using all of 40 minutes more than the allowed allocation, which will probably result in a one-match suspension for stand-in captain Tharanga. He had earlier won the toss in the absence of regular skipper Angelo Mathews, who has been sidelined by injury.
Prior to Saturday, the teams had met in the intermediate format of the international game on 65 occasions, with the Proteas triumphant 34 times. South Africa, now, have lost only one of their last 10 ODIs against the Sri Lankans.
The Proteas’ next match will be against Pakistan at Edgbaston in Birmingham on Wednesday. A taxing fixture against India will follow four days later.
SRI LANKA: Upul Tharanga (capt), Niroshan Dickwella (wk), Kusal Mendis, Dinesh Chandimal, Kusal Perera, Chamara Kapugedera, Asela Gunaratne, Seekkuge Prasanna, Suranga Lakmal, Nuwan Pradeep, Lasith Malinga
SOUTH AFRICA: Quinton de Kock (wk), Hashim Amla, Faf du Plessis, AB de Villiers (capt), David Miller, JP Duminy, Chris Morris, Wayne Parnell, Kagiso Rabada, Morne Morkel, Imran Tahir