They timed Imran Tahir’s celebration sprints at 25km/h and any more of his man of the match heroics and he could have South Africans dancing in the streets come 18 June, writes GARY LEMKE.
It’s hard to believe that Tahir is already 38 years old, given the boundless energy he exerts – and in tournaments such as this truncated Champions Trophy that energy is infectious. Importantly too, batsmen find his variety of spinners tough to pick. England however, have a side packed with quality left-handers and they have been able to play him best in recent times.
Tahir was left out of two of the three ODIs against England, and in the one he did feature, he went for 68 runs in nine wicketless overs. In five previous matches against England he averaged six to the over, which highlights the team which plays him best. But, debate around that can wait.
The other man to share the headlines in the wake of the emphatic 92-run victory over Sri Lanka at The Oval is the peerless Hashim Amla, although the role that Faf du Plessis played in helping Amla get to his 25th ODI hundred cannot be understated.
Amla and Quinton de Kock had cautiously moved through the first hour’s power play, and by the time De Kock went for an uncharacteristically sedate 23 off 42 balls, South Africa, sent in to bat – the feeling remains they are more comfortable chasing these days – were 44 for 1 after 12 overs.
Du Plessis helped hurry things on, punching the ball into the gaps, turning ones into twos on a big outfield, putting pressure on the fielders and bowlers. He should have been caught on the ropes by Lasith Malinga, but the Sri Lankan made a mess of the attempt, and by the time Du Plessis went for a 70-ball 75, he and Amla had set up the Proteas for a target of around 320.
Du Plessis’ calculated aggression helped Amla go about his business at the other end, and while it’s the Mighty Hash who gets the plaudits, Du Plessis’ positive contribution needs to be recognised as well.
With a big 300-plus score likely, the South Africans lost their way a bit, before a late flurry by the inventive and experienced JP Duminy pushed the total up to 299 and set the Sri Lankans 300 to win on a pitch that was difficult to assess for much of the day.
Du Plessis later called it a 275 pitch, but one gets the impression that against a better side than Sri Lanka – suffering their eighth successive ODI loss to South Africa – 300 would have been the par score. Again, we don’t have the definitive answer to that.
Sri Lanka are by no means the force they once were, with their bowling largely toothless and devoid of mystery, and their batsmen lacking authority and dominance. However, when Niroshan Dickwella and Upul Tharanga started teeing off on Kagiso Rabada and Wayne Parnell early on, the first wicket falling in the ninth over with 62 runs already on the board, some might have been inclined to panic.
As it turned out, that would have been too soon. De Villiers made the bowling changes and brought on Morne Morkel and Chris Morris, both tall men providing bounce and carry, before the captain threw the ball to Tahir in the 18th over. ‘It was just a gut feel,’ the captain explained later.
With Tahir there is always something happening and it took only two balls for the third wicket to fall, Dinesh Chandimal panicking into a single off a De Villiers misfield of all people, and being run out with a direct hit. Ironically, Chandimal is probably the best player of leg-spin in the Sri Lankan team, so his departure led to open season for Tahir.
It was a clinical performance by South Africa, and former England captain Michael Vaughan calls the Proteas ‘the best all-round team in the competition’. This is pretty much the preferred starting XI for South Africa and Parnell’s second spell compensated for a loose opening burst, while among the batsmen, David Miller’s supporters will be hoping that he finally comes good in a major ICC tournament, because tougher assignments lie in wait.
Photo: Clive Rose/Getty Images