What a so close but yet so far finish it was! Sri Lanka in full throttle on 190 for 1 wicket with skipper Upul Tharanga on song on 102 and Kusal Mendis blossoming for bigger things on 23 by the 23rd over. But when it looked like Sri Lanka had the match within its grasp and was on course to jinxing a piece of history by going past South Africa’s improbable 368 at the Newlands, Mendis holing out with the total on 203 was to signal a breakdown. Not long after Tharanga, who had played perhaps the innings of his like in redeeming himself in signalling a second anointment or his re-arrival with a majestic captain’s knock reaching thee three figure mark, was to fend a Parnell delivery to Duminy’s hands and it was 216 for 3. From there on it was a tightrope walk for the Sri Lankans with youngsters Dasun Werakkody and Asela Gunaratne in a valiant attempt to bridge a 60 plus gap reducing it to 30 odd before the latter departed.
That Sri Lanka went down by 41 runs however, was not to take away the brilliance the island nation batsmen showcased on the back of Upul Tharanga and Niroshan Dickwella’s batting heroics. The 139 first wicket alliance was indeed sky high stuff, and that they did so much with Tharanga continuing to carry the fight to the South African bowlers, only to be jinxed at the post was indeed the agony from the ecstasy; of translating a herculean effort that continued with a 64-run second wicket alliance between Tharanga and Mendis. If Tharanga clearly displayed the maturity Sri Lanka had been yearning for so long with tremendous aplomb in an aggression filled but calculated innings of 119 inclusive of 7 whopping sixes and 11 boundaries, Mendis contrastingly kindled a likable blend of youthful exuberance as he stone walled from an edgy start to open up; in so much as prompting the South African TV commentators to comment, ‘we are now seeing an altogether different Mendis. What is heartening to watch in the blooding star’s approach is the unfazed young blood signs of the trade mark grin he wears as he bats; a sure trait of self confidence which the lad from Moratuwa has displayed in an apparent element that here is a certain future torch bearer for his country with the bat.
In Tharanga, what was so welcome was his comeback in his once pet position as an opener kindling memories of some trail blazing knocks like thee ton he notched in a double century match winning partnership with Sanath Jayasuriya, the incumbent chairman of selectors as the latter watched from the Sri Lankan dressing room. Not long ago when Tharanga led Sri Lanka to an ODI series triumph against Zimbabwe with calculated assuredness of an unbeaten half ton in the series clinching decider, I did comment in these columns that the left hander was a mite unlucky to have lost his way from the side for the tremendous promise he had underlined in his prime. That he has resealed himself must surely be manifested by this latest run a ball effort; of a batsman who should be rightfully reverted to the opening slot both at Test and ODI level.
South Africa, for their part did notch up a ground record 367 on the back of a mammoth 185 by F. du Plessis with skipper A.B. d Villiers and Quentin de Kock firing bolstering half centuries. But in this lost cause, the Sri Lankan camp could take pride in stretching the match to the wire that does make such contests great in estimation to the connoisseur. In Weerakkody, the chubby faced left hander has underlined a sturdiness in his approach to the game of a batsman of much promise for the future. It was unfortunate that Dhananjaya de Silva could just not join the party with his bat yesterday.
By Srian Obeyesekera