We look at five positives the Proteas can take away from their seven-day 2-0 series whitewash in Sri Lanka.
Keshav Maharaj’s record-breaking performance
The left-arm spinner proved that he is an integral part of the Proteas’ bowling unit after his astonishing bowling performance in the second Test. The Proteas opted for a different game plan in Colombo, selecting just one spinner and three seamers on the spin-friendly SSC track. The lack of another specialist spinner saw Maharaj utilised extensively by his skipper, Faf du Plessis.
In the first innings, Maharaj bowled 41 overs out of the 104 in the Sri Lanka innings as he captured his career-best Test bowling figures of 9-126, as well as the second-best Test bowling figures for a South African, behind Hugh Tayfield’s 9-116 against England in 1957.
Theunis de Bruyn stakes his claim
After the Proteas’ 278-run defeat in the first Test in Galle, the selectors opted for an extra batsman in the second Test in Colombo. De Bruyn was slotted in at No 3 and Temba Bavuma was shifted back to No 6 in the order. The decision was scrutinised after the Proteas’ first innings when they were skittled for 124 runs but, with the chips down in the second innings and the Proteas chasing 490 runs for victory, De Bruyn led his side’s fightback with a magnificent maiden Test ton. He scored 101 off 232 balls, having recorded scores of 0, 12, 48, 1, 11, 0, 6, 36, 1, 15 and 3 in his previous 11 Test innings. His innings has surely given the selectors a pleasant headache to cope with when it comes to future Test selections.
Temba Bavuma stands tall
The Proteas needed hope after their side were reduced to 139-5 on day three of the second Test and Bavuma’s brave innings of 63 off 98 balls (with four fours) provided just that. His contribution of 52 runs was invaluable in the Proteas’ only century partnership of the series, the 123-run stand with De Bruyn. Although he couldn’t see his side over the line, Bavuma showed tenacity and great mental strength on a wicket that all other Proteas batsmen had struggled on. This was his 11th half-century and the Proteas’ only other score above 50, after De Bruyn’s ton.
Kagiso Rabada is king on any surface
The Galle and Colombo track was described as low, slow and dry, and this drove Sri Lanka to select three spinners and only one specialist seamer in the series. The track was not conducive for seam, and this left Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander and Lungi Ngidi exposed throughout the series. Rabada, however, was not deterred by the seamer-unfriendly conditions and proved to be a consistent threat in both Tests.
In the first Test, KG reached his 150th Test wicket in only his 31st Test to become the third-fastest South African to the milestone in terms of Tests played and, at 23, he became the youngest South African to achieve 150 Test wickets. What was extraordinary about Rabada’s performance was how quickly he assessed the conditions and adapted his game plan. The second Test was not as productive for the young seamer, but he still picked up one wicket to finish with eight wickets in the series.
Dale Steyn reaches 421
A big positive for the future is the fact that Steyn lasted out four full innings for the Proteas. He wasn’t back to his sparkling best, but he managed to take the two wickets he needed to draw level with Shaun Pollock as South Africa’s leading Test wicket-taker, and he caused the batsmen problems on many occasions. On harder, seaming wickets this season, he is going to be a handful.
Steyn had a jaded start to the first Test but gradually built momentum and rhythm, pushing the 140km/h mark consistently. He failed to take that elusive final wicket he needed in the second Test, so Steyn (and Proteas fans) will have an agonising wait until Boxing Day this year for him to claim the top spot in the first Test against Pakistan at Centurion.
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