The Proteas beat Sri Lanka by 88 runs in Centurion to secure the 5-0 whitewash and become the new No 1 ODI side in the world.
Few would have predicted this in September last year. In a run that started with a victory against Ireland, the Proteas have gone on to win 11 ODIs in a row, a record-extending 14 home victories in a row, and two consecutive 5-0 whitewashes. The symbol of their success? The No 1 ranking. The Proteas are officially the best ODI side in the world.
It means very little of course come June when they take on the same opponents in their opening match of the Champions Trophy, but what it does show is the significant improvement of a side that hit heavy crossroads when they were sent home early in the Tri-Nation series in West Indies in June last year.
It was another clinical performance from the hosts at SuperSport Park on Friday night. A 12th ODI century for Quinton de Kock, a record-breaking 24th ton for Hashim Amla, and a career-best 4-31 from Chris Morris all played its part in the victory. The Sri Lankans will want to forget about this tour very quickly indeed. Their inexperienced side were completely outplayed in the Tests and the ODIs, marginally winning the T20 series against what was largely a second-string South African outfit.
Not even winning the toss cushioned a massive defeat for the islanders. The Proteas posted the second-highest total ever at Centurion and Amla scored the third-highest individual innings at the ground. First came the 187-run stand between Amla and De Kock, as De Kock breezed to his third ODI century in a row at SuperSport Park, off a casual 80 balls.
The Sri Lankans largely had themselves to blame in this stand, bowling loosely and dropping catches. Amla was put down in the slips on 38, and to say it proved costly would be an understatement.
Amla took his time to get to his century, 16 overs longer than De Kock did in fact. But it was well-measured, for he had the stamina to open his shoulders from there. He became the quickest in ODI history to score 24 ODI centuries, and by the time he was dismissed, he’d amassed his second-best score, 154, and his fourth ton on the trot in Centurion.
There were useful contributions in between from the likes of the in-form Faf du Plessis (41) and Farhaan Behardien (32), who played their part in pushing the hosts to 384-6.
Upul Tharanga and Niroshan Dickwella pushed the Proteas for the first time in the fourth ODI at Newlands on Tuesday as they allowed their side to get a sniff at victory. While it wasn’t to be Tharanga’s night this time, who Chris Morris got rid of for seven, it was another industrious evening for Dickwella.
The Player of the Tournament from the T20 series is the best thing the Sri Lankans can take out of this tour, and he blasted two sixes and five fours on his way to a 19-ball 39 to go with his 74 and 58 from the previous two knocks. Wayne Parnell had the last laugh to see him off, and Morris and Parnell combined again for a wicket apiece to leave the Sri Lankans in a familiar position: struggling.
The Sri Lankans were all but out of the contest from there, but what they did do was frustrate the South Africans immensely with two massive partnerships, both of which included Asela Gunaratne. Gunaratne piled on 93 runs with Sachith Pathirana, before Morris got Pathirana for his third wicket for 56.
With the required run rate pushing steadily towards 20 an over, Gunaratne opened up, and punished every bowler he faced. Behardien went for 17 runs off his over, then Phehlukwayo went for 15, and before you knew it, Gunaratne had a maiden ODI century.
Gunaratne finished on 114 as Sri Lanka held firm on 296-8 by the end of the 50 overs, taking the gloss somewhat off the Proteas’ victory.
It’s still a time of celebration for De Villiers’ men however, before they head off to New Zealand next week for another five-match series.
Photo: Lee Warren/Gallo Images