After the dramatic highs of last year’s 3-0 whitewash against Australia, Sri Lanka succumbed to the reverse result against a rampant South African bowling attack. After destroying Australia 2-1 in conditions similar to the wickets at home, South Africa would have been relishing the chance to bowl at full throttle against a team that has a reputation for poor batting against quality swing bowling.
Sri Lanka struggled even on spinning pitches against the raw pace and reverse swing of Mitchell Starc, who claimed an astonishing 24 wickets in the three match series against Australia. How much more, wondered the hosts, would they struggle against the quality of Philander, Rabada and Abbott?
Frustrating display during the Boxing Day Test
They would have to wait and see, as South Africa opted to bat in Port Elizabeth on Boxing Day. It was the bowlers turn first up, and they didn’t show any immediate threat, going wicketless in the first session and conceding 100before claiming their maiden wicket of the series. But from there, they came storming back into the game thanks to the efforts of Suranga Lakmal, who ended with 5/63 as South Africa finished day 1 on 6/267 before being wrapped up for 286 on the second morning.
But it was the same old story for Sri Lanka as they fell to 3/22 before lunch later that day. On a deck nowhere near as pacy as what they would later encounter in Johannesburg and Cape Town, Sri Lanka could only muster a paltry 205, with Dhananjaya de Silva the only man to impress with 43. De Silva had an excellent debut series against Australia and looked good here again, but was dismissed cheaply on the third morning.
With the bowlers in a demoralising state, Sri Lanka conceded 6/405 declared. But surprisingly, the second dig proved to be Sri Lanka’s best batting effort of the series, they ended the day on 5/240 and, if not for the loss of two late wickets, could have gone into day 4 three down and with an outside chance of victory. But predictably, they collapsed early the next morning to fall to 281 all out and a 206 run loss.
Humiliation at Cape Town
An even bigger loss followed in the second Test, with South Africa triumphing by 286 runs at Cape Town. It was again the bowlers who let the batsmen down, getting starts, but failing to go on with them. After getting well set, the middle order was guilty of playing flashy drives at good length deliveries. Chandimal had often been guilty of this, as was Kusal Janith Perera, who was eventually dropped from the side to make way for Upul Tharanga.
Sri Lanka’s bowlers were again in a good position early in the Test, taking a wicket in the first over and leaving South Africa 3/56 at the lunch break. But they let it slip from there, conceding 392 on a seaming wicket. With the batsmen this time, the ones demoralised, Sri Lanka could muster a mere 110 in the reply. After such a sterling bowling effort, Faf Du Plessis opted to give his bowlers a rest and decided not to enforce the follow on.
A combination of a desperate hunt for quick runs, and a green wicket led to a somewhat improved bowling performance from Sri Lanka as they limited South Africa to 7/224 declared. Early and regular wickets were again their undoing with the bat, as Kaushal Silva and lower order veteran spinner Rangana Herath were the only ones to occupy the crease for a significant period of time.
Mind-boggling batting exhibition at Johannesburg
The third and final Test proved to be even more embarrassing than the first two losses, as Sri Lanka collapsed by an innings and 118 runs. Scores of 131 and 177 were nowhere near enough to even mildly challenge South Africa. Lahiru Kumara impressed with the ball, following his six wickets in the first innings at Cape Town with 4/107 as Sri Lanka rebounded after a poor first day. Taking 3/338 on the first day, including centuries to 100th Test hero Hashim Amla and JP Duminy, they claimed 7/88 on the second morning to bowl South Africa out for 426.
But Rabada and Philander proved fiendishly difficult to cope with once again, claiming 3/44 and 3/28 respectively. Sri Lanka ended the day on 4/80 and then lost 16 wickets on day 3 to collapse to a pathetic innings loss.
One of the worst ever defeats in the history of Sri Lankan cricket
This may rank up there with one of Sri Lanka’s worst ever away tour defeats. They lost the Warne-Muralitharan trophy 3-0 in Australia in 2012, but even there had been far more competitive than the scoreline showed.
Here in South Africa, though, it was a different story. Expensive bowling, mind-boggling collapses and less than inspired captaincy (including bowling military medium pacers first change on green wickets) have led to Tests that all failed to last five days. It is a pity Cricket South Africa cancelled Sri Lanka’s tour in November, but few can argue that their decision isn’t justified.