Sri Lanka showed why it is a firm favourite in its group, following an adventurous batting performance with a skillful display with the ball in its ICC World Twenty20 2014 game against South Africa on Saturday (March 22). South Africa had many chances to shut the door on its opponent, but each time the game appeared to be slipping away, Sri Lanka found a way back. On the back of Kusal Perera’s bright 61 at the top of the order, Sri Lanka posted 165, which proved five runs too many for South Africa.
South Africa felt the full force of Sri Lanka’s pocket rocket, Kusal, on a pitch where the ball skidded through and came on to the bat nicely. Kusal showed he meant business, taking 17 off the first five balls he faced, sent down by Dale Steyn, including a sweet hit over the on-side that landed in the stands. Steyn managed to pull things back a touch with the final ball of his first over, keeping it full and straight to Tillakaratne Dilshan, who smeared across the line and lost his off stump. Dilshan’s troubles at the top of the order have not helped Sri Lanka, and in his absence it was imperative that Kusal power on.
The little left-hand batsman did that in some style. Ever since he made his debut, Kusal has been seen as the batting heir to Sanath Jayasuriya, his stance, set up and bat swing reminding seasoned cricket watchers of the marauder from Matara. Jayasuriya would have been proud of the assault Kusal launched on Saturday. Morne Morkel, who appeared to be twice as tall as Kusal, was despatched over midwicket and Lonwabo Tsotsobe was slap-slogged over the leg-side.
As Kusal kept his end up, wickets fell at the other, Mahela Jayawardena lobbed a catch to mid-on and Kumar Sangakkara tried to play across the line and speared a catch to short third-man. Fortunately for Sri Lanka, Kusal was unperturbed, and stuck to his guns.
Angelo Mathews stemmed the rot by playing straight and allowing the more set batsman to attack. When Kusal finally fell, having reached 61 off only 40 balls, caught at mid-off trying to hit Imran Tahir out of the ground, he had done his job, taking Sri Lanka to 106 in only the 14th over.
Mathews then assumed the role of aggressor as Dinesh Chandimal and Thisara Perera struggled to find their feet. Using his feet well, Mathews tackled the slower bowlers with some ease, particularly relishing the chance to dump Tahir over long-on with a muscular hit.
Steyn, returning for a much better second spell, followed Mathews as he tried to give himself some room and the ball ricocheted back on to the stumps when the batsman failed to make a clean connection. Mathews’s 43 was only the second significant contribution of the Sri Lanka innings, but it was enough to lift the score to 165 for 7 in 20 overs.
Sri Lanka began the defence of its score in the knowledge that it had only lost twice – both times to India – in 20-over matches when it had put 160 or more on the board.
South Africa got off to a breezy start, Quinton de Kock allowing himself a bit of a sighter before wading into Nuwan Kulasekara in the third over of the innings. De Kock heaved a four to midwicket, played a towering pick-up shot over square-leg and singed the turf with a drive through cover that had been made possible by a shimmy down the pitch.
The introduction of Lasith Malinga had the desired effect for Sri Lanka, with de Kock, having raced to 25 off only 18, failing to keep out a swinging yorker that crashed into the base of the stumps.
Hashim Amla and JP Duminy built on the start de Kock had given South Africa, the two playing in contrasting styles that were equally effective. Duminy chanced his arm repeatedly, creating scoring opportunities off perfectly good balls while Amla banked on proper cricket shots to get his runs. Where Duminy played the ramp shot straight back over the wicketkeeper’s head, Amla preferred the sweetly timed inside-out drive over extra cover. The two had added exactly 50 from 6.2 overs when Amla (23) tried to go over long-off but felt the bat turn in his hand and that resulted in a straightforward catch in the covers.
AB de Villiers kept the momentum going, but fell just when South Africa was taking control, and when Duminy (39) was smartly caught by Dilshan on the ropes, there was still work left to be done.
Albie Morkel announced himself with two sweetly struck boundaries, but fell off the fourth ball he faced, lifting an Ajantha Mendis full toss to midwicket. Chandimal timed his jump perfectly, plucking the ball out of the air even as it threatened to sail over the ropes.
Malinga then produced a succession of yorkers in the 17th over, but David Miller and Farhaan Behardien were good enough to keep the ball out. When the penultimate over began, with only 19 needed, South Africa was ahead, but faced the prospect of one final Malinga over. When that over came, 15 were still needed, Miller’s desperate need to stay on strike resulted in Steyn being run out first ball, when he was turned back on a potential single, and Miller being caught short the next ball, courtesy a strong and smart throw from Mathews at long-on that landed straight into the keeper’s gloves. In the end, a last-ball six ruined a fine over, but left South Africa five runs short at 160 for 8.
(Courtesy: International Cricket Council)