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Finally, the Sri Lankan cricket team is coming back to their old form, but on the other hand, South Africa have been very poor in terms of technique and temperament……

The South Africans arrived in the Emerald Isle with hopes of replicating their form in overseas conditions. Though they were without AB de Villiers, who shocked the world by announcing his international retirement the visitors were still more than a handful against a side who were struggling to find form and their lost reputation after the likes of Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene and Muttiah Muralidharan walked away.

However, the series that lasted just seven days ended in a rather anti-climactic fashion as the Proteas slumped to their first overseas whitewash in 12 years. They were outdone in both departments of the game by a resurgent Lankan side who were without their regular captain Dinesh Chandimal for the series.

In the first Test, the Faf du Plessis led-team were skittled out for just 73 in the fourth innings – their lowest total since readmission. The home team had notched up 287 runs on the board in the first innings, in reply to which South Africa managed 126. The third innings saw Sri Lanka put on 190 and the target of 352 was greeted with an abysmal showing where South Africa lost the plot in just one session.

It was hoped that the second game could bring a turnaround but the script followed an eerily similar narrative as South Africa went on to lose by 199 runs despite Keshav Maharaj’s 9-wicket haul in the first innings and Theunis de Bruyn’s resilient hundred in the fourth. A 2-0 drubbing for the second-ranked team opens up a plethora of questions and their future ahead looks iffy.

Here are the 5 talking points from the series.

Unstoppable Karunaratne

The player kept batting and batting and carried his bat through in the first innings of the first game to make 158. He carried on with the same momentum in the second innings to end with 218 runs in the first match – more than what the entire South African unit could make over both innings – 199.

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He carried on with his phenomenal run in the second game too, making 53 and 85 to win the Man of the Match and the Man of the Series award. Karunaratne who was injured during the games with West Indies showed how indispensable he is, which was even agreed by du Plessis after the first match.

“If you keep losing wickets, it is tough coming in – I think that’s the biggest difference when you play in the subcontinent. When you do lose a wicket, that next five overs become tricky – you need to make sure you get through that. Karunaratne was there the whole time for them in the first innings. He scored more than half the runs of their total. So he was fantastic in this game. As bad as we were in our batting, he was very, very good,” the skipper had proclaimed.

The poor batting display by the South Africans

Hashim Amla struggled and du Plessis had no answers. In the first game in the post-ABD era, the South Africans were tattered and bruised against the spin demons that had come to the fore when the team toured India in 2015. They averaged only 11.18 in the series against spinners and the hosts were clever to bowl almost 96.7% of the deliveries by the slower bowlers.

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The lack of any technique was evident both in the footwork and in their stroke-play that was one-dimensional and showed weaknesses. The sweep shot was hardly used and Amla, in particular, was guilty of getting dismissed in the short leg region – unable to play the balls that were directed to his body. Before the Africans tour the sub-continent to face India next year they have innumerable questions that will need answering.

Spin bowlers entrap the visitors

Though Rangana Herath is a warhorse and much was expected from him, it was his spin partner Dilruwan Perera who surprised. He finished with 10 wickets in the first match and then scalped 6 in the next game to push South Africa deeper into the abyss.

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Unlike the traditional wickets in Sri Lanka, the wickets did not carry unplayable turn but the role that the two slower bowlers executed was enough to trouble the opponents. The famed rivals played lose shots against spin and by sticking to a consistent line and length, the duo of Herath and Perera ensured that South Africa return from the island with a number of doubts that need immediate answers.

De Bruyn remains the lone man standing

Hardly anyone would have thought that a relatively unknown player would emerge as the sole positive batsman from the tour. De Bruyn, pushed to number three after Amla continued with his struggles against spin held one end up perfectly to notch up his first hundred – which was also the first and only century that a South Africa made.

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He swept and dodged the bullet against rampaging bowlers and his positive outlook was the impetus that South Africa needed.

The cricketer who had an average of only 14 before he made his debut in the subcontinent was firm in his footwork and his aggressive outlook meant that South Africa reduced the margin of defeat to 199. He, along with Keshav Maharaj were the only plus points for a team who were meant to have it easy against a side that have made it a habit to come back strongly in dire situations.

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