The Proteas opened up their Champions Trophy campaign with a convincing 96-run win against Sri Lanka at the Oval on Saturday.
There were a few nervy moments at times, including a late collapse and a Niroshan Dickwella blitz, but it was an otherwise clinical display from the Proteas, as they wrapped up victory over their group B opponents without too much concern.
It means they’ve now beaten Sri Lanka eight times in a row, including the 2015 World Cup quarter-final victory and the series whitewash earlier in the year. But more importantly, the Proteas are in all likelihood one victory away from sealing a spot in the Champions Trophy semi-finals.
It was a pitch undeniably more favourable for the bowlers, and Sri Lankan skipper Upul Tharanga, in the absence of the injured Angelo Mathews, won the toss and put the Proteas into bat.
If you take a look at where the Proteas were after 10 overs compared to Sri Lanka, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the islanders had the upper hand in this match. But it just goes to show how well the Proteas assessed the conditions, and played accordingly. While Sri Lanka took 40 balls to bring up 50, South Africa took 83. Quinton de Kock looked uncomfortable with the two-paced nature of the track, eventually departing for 23.
Hashim Amla was in sensational form, and it was his partnership with Faf du Plessis that effectively determined the outcome of the match. Their 145-run stand, off just 21.3 overs, handed them the impetus. Du Plessis was dropped on eight, thanks to a howler on the boundary ropes from Lasith Malinga, and went on to score 75 off 70.
Amla, fresh off becoming the fastest man to 7 000 ODI runs in the third ODI against England, added another piece of history to his glittering ODI career, becoming the sixth man to 25 ODI centuries, and the quickest of them all.
JP Duminy’s form was encouraging news for the player and the team as a whole. Coming in at No 6, he scored 38 off 20 balls to get them close to 300. His four and six off the last two deliveries in the innings left the Sri Lankans needing 300 on the dot.
The response was typically aggressive from Sri Lanka. Their chances were always going to lie with an explosive opening stand, as it did with their T20 series victory over the Proteas in early February. Dickwella lived up to that, with 41 off just 33 balls, as Kagiso Rabada and Wayne Parnell went for plenty with the new ball. Rabada could’ve had Dickwella first ball, but spilled a catch that he wasn’t expecting.
Morne Morkel, in for Andile Phehlukwayo to add some pace to an already fast bowling attack, was introduced in the ninth over and struck with his second ball. A short ball came to Dickwella too quickly, as the edge flew to third man.
Striking in the first over of the spell became something of a habit for the bowlers, as Chris Morris saw off the potentially dangerous Kusal Mendis for 11, before two wickets came off Imran Tahir’s first. Dinesh Chandimal was on the receiving end of a sharp run-out from AB de Villiers, before Tahir trapped Chamara Kapugedera lbw first ball.
The openers managed to get the required run rate below five and a half to the over, but their work was undone as the middle-order folded. The writing was on the wall when Tahir saw off Tharanga for 57, and Tahir fittingly took the last wicket, earning the Man of the Match plaudits for his 4-27.
The Proteas will get back to training on Monday, as they prepare for their next challenge, Pakistan, at Edgbaston on Wednesday.
Photo: Clive Rose/Getty Images