Faf’s heroics enough for 4-0

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South Africa warded off a spirited fight by Sri Lanka as they successfully defended a massive 367 for five, by the relatively narrow margin of 40 runs, at Newlands in Cape Town. 

Faf du Plessis (185 from 141 deliveries) set up the victory as he cruised to the second highest ever ODI score by a South African, just three runs short of Gary Kirsten’s 188 not out against the UAE in 1996.

A good crowd came through the turnstiles on a lovely afternoon at the country’s most picturesque ground, despite the match being the first of two “dead rubbers”, and the home side now has a 4-0 series lead. Sri Lanka got surprisingly close to matching what seemed an unmatchable total and the dispirited tourists will likely find it hard to get motivated for the final ODI, which is in Centurion on Friday.

Tonight’ result was the 23rd occasion from 29 day/night ODI’s at Newlands where the match has been won by the side batting first – indeed AB de Villiers did not hesitate to bat first in the sunshine when he won the toss earlier. The batsmen did not waste the opportunity to amass a big score as they put on the highest ever ODI total at Newlands, some 13 runs more than they managed against Kenya in 2001.

There was not much Sri Lanka could do to stop du Plessis and his accomplices from smashing the ball to all corners of this foot of Table Mountain. Du Plessis’ ton was his second in his last three outings and he enjoyed smooth 100-plus run partnerships with both de Kock (55) and de Villiers (64). A quick-fire effort from Behardien (33* off 20 balls) represented more than just a cameo as he helped take the Proteas way beyond the 300-run mark.

Du Plessis was out to the second ball of the last over as he hit the ball in the air, which indicated he probably didn’t know that he was so close to Kirsten’s record.

None of Sri Lanka’s attack was able to produce handsome figures on a belter of a Newlands track. The young paceman, Kumara, was on the receiving end of a noteworthy amount of tap as he conceded 73 runs in 7 overs. He was however rewarded with two wickets and despite the tough moments of this tour, he is a prospect for the future that will no doubt have gained plenty from the experience.

Tharanga (119 off 90) and Dickwella (58 off 47) threatened to steal the show as they raced to 139 without loss after 16 overs. Sri Lanka needed a little over a run a ball from that moment on as they effectively cut the chase to under 130 runs from 34 overs. Dickwella’s departure brought Kusal Mendis (29) to the crease and he kept Dickwella company for another quick 64 runs. Tharanga notched up the only hundred by a Sri Lankan of this whole tour (the next highest was a 70-odd by Dickwella) and even when he fell with the score on 216 for two in the 30th over, the game was not yet up.

South Africa’s bowling was little better than listless on this good surface and the 23-year old Sandun Weerakoddy (58), playing in his second ever ODI, kept the chase alive as he added an exciting half century. But Parnell (4-58), Rabada (2-58) and Tahir (2-76) kept taking wickets and Sri Lanka ran out of the necessary firepower to get over the line. Gunaratne (38) was the only batsman after the top four to manage double figures.

Shamsi (0-60) played his first match of the inbound tour and, while he did send down some foxy chinamen deliveries, his efforts went without reward.

The 40-run margin of victory looks bigger than it was – if any other middle or lower order batsman had chipped in then Sri Lanka might just have pulled of a most remarkable heist. The visitors have had a torrid tour and will likely wish that the next four days before they get on a plane home do not tick by too slowly.

By Nicholas Sadleir