On the 13th of February Sri Lanka embarked on their final series before the much awaited World Cup, scratch that, it may not have been ‘much awaited’ by any Sri Lankan cricket fans. Much was said before the game, potential line-ups and tactics discussed, predictions made, – many of which favored a game that ended in 3 days with the hosts coming out as winners.
Boy, did that pan out all wrong for all the ‘pretend soothsayers’. Here’s what happened over the next three days since the 13 of February through our lenses at the venue!
13th February – Day 1
In a surprise move, the selectors decided to hand debuts to left arm spinner Lasith Embuldeniya and right-handed batsman Oshada Fernando.
Sri Lanka won the toss and elected to bowl first. Vishwa Fernando, who had been flown in as a replacement for Nuwan Pradeep during the last series in Australia, got Sri Lanka off to the perfect start – see ya later, Dean Elgar!
Fernando almost got Sri Lanka off to a ‘perfect-er’ start, but alas, Aleem Dar mixed up his 3s and 5s, said Sri Lanka had taken too long to review an LBW decision and gave the out of form Hashim Amla a life. (you can read about it here)
The ball moved around a bit, Amla squandered his chance and suddenly the hosts were tottering on 17/3.
A mini recovery, a wicket at the stroke of lunch, a run-out and a couple more wickets to Vishwa Fernando followed.
Quinton de Kock threatened to carry South Africa to a big total with the game’s 1st half century.
Debutant Embuldeniya picked up his 1st (1st of many we hope) Test wicket, before South Africa were bowled out for 235.
Sri Lanka’s bowlers had performed better than expected on day 1, but unfortunately, opener Lahiru Thirimanne was shown the door by Dale Steyn before the close of play.
14th February – Day 2
Batsmen got starts but failed to capitalize. Sri Lanka went from 90/5 to 152/8, but not before Kusal Perera made a half century. (spoiler alert, there’s more to come from him)
The bowlers were in to face a baptism of fire. Embuldeniya was struck, Kasun Rajitha was struck. Ducks, swings, drives, fist-bumps followed before Sri Lanka surrendered a lead of 44 runs to the hosts.
South Africa were let off the hook and they were ready to make Sri Lanka pay! Aiden Markram, one of the more stylish batsmen out there and his partner Elgar (not so stylish – but hey, he gets the job done) started well, before Rajitha struck.
The Proteas went from 70/1 to 77/3 and could have been on 77/4 if not for a dropped catch by the usually reliable Kusal Mendis at slip. De Kock and Skipper Faf saw the hosts to stumps.
15th February – Day 3
Fifties for both overnight batsmen and Sri Lanka were left searching for inspiration on day 3.
And it came in the form of Lasith Embuldeniya and Vishwa Fernando. They shared 9 wickets between them as South Africa lost their last 5 wickets for 8 runs. A fifer on debut, the icing on the cake.
304 to win, against Dale Steyn, Kagiso Rabada, Vernon Philander, Duane Olivier and Keshav Maharaj. Sri Lanka started well, but ‘Big Vern’ ‘celebrappeal’ed (that’s a real thing, google it) his way through the Sri Lankan openers.
Kusal Mendis scored a big 0 but Oshada Fernando and Kusal Mendis just about managed to stay in until stumps were called with Sri Lanka on 83/3.
16th February – Day 4
10 overs of the morning session survived…. Hope began to creep in, could Sri Lanka do this?! Dale Steyn thought not. 2 wickets in three balls, goodbye hope! Test wicket No. 438 & 439 couldn’t have come at a better time.
Another partnership! Hope, once again creeps in…. Dhananjaya De Silva is batting well, and we’ve got Lakmal and Embuldeniya and Rajitha to come too. 206/5 turns into 206/7, then 215/8 and 226/9 – Maharaj has finally made his presence felt!
78 to win, 1 wicket in hand – it ain’t happening. Then the 78 shrunk to 65, quick singles were stolen, strike was farmed and a hundred reached.
The new ball was taken, sixes were hit, 65 shrunk to 50, then to 20 and eventually to 4. Rabada with the ball in hand, Kusal Perera the bat. Then that ‘1996 World Cup winning’ late cut came out – perhaps Sri Lanka’s favourite shot now! Game over, history made!