Rabada, Shamsi set up convincing win

South Africa drew first blood in the limited-overs leg of their Sri Lanka tour with a convincing five-wicket victory in the ODI series opener at Dambulla on Sunday (July 29). Kagiso Rabada and Tabraiz Shamsi took four-fers to pack off Sri Lanka for 193 after they elected to bat. Faf du Plessis and Quinton de Kock stabilized South Africa’s reply with a valuable 86-run stand after the setback of two early wickets before JP Duminy entertained with his attacking 53 off 32 and sealed the deal with 19 overs to spare.

South Africa carried the momentum of a good bowling innings into their chase but their smooth start was halted early by Akila Dananjaya who took out Hashim Amla and Aiden Markram with googlies off successive deliveries – both batsmen making the same mistake of playing for the turn. But if that was a cruel reminder to South Africa of their continuing struggles against spin, the lunch break came just at the right time for the two new batsmen in the middle.

Contrary to their regular game, du Plessis this time took on the role of the aggressor in the partnership while an out-of-form de Kock slowed down seeing the runs were trickling consistently at more than five an over. Both batsmen used their feet to perfection to counter Sri Lanka’s spin challenge, and du Plessis in particular deployed the sweep shot to good effect to keep the boundaries coming. De Kock also took the odd calculated risks. Spotting a vacant off-side, he cleared the cover boundary with an inside-out shot to move into 40s. However, Dananjaya eventually found a way past this partnership as well.

South Africa were comfortably marching towards their target when both the set batsmen fell attempting unnecessary shots, on 47 each. De Kock stepped out to take on Dhananjaya but the ball, spinning away from him, took the leading edge that was pouched safely on second attempt at cover despite a minor collision. Less than three overs later, du Plessis’s cheeky attempt at trying a paddle against Lakshan Sandakan went wrong as he ended up tamely edging to his counterpart at first slip.

Duminy however didn’t let the pressure get to South Africa’s lower order. He too produced a masterclass in countering spin, swept anything that was tossed up outside off and raced to a quickfire 53. The highlight of his unbeaten knock was a 17-run over off Sandakan, which he started with a four, six and four to reduce the rest of the chase to a mere formality. Even the dismissal of Miller couldn’t hamper Duminy’s charge, who brought up the winning runs with the final ball of the 31st over.

Earlier in the day, the foundation of Sri Lanka’s 193 was a fighting 81 by Kusal Perera, who stitched two value partnerships with lower-order batsmen to ensure the home team wasn’t bowled out cheaply. Rabada gave South Africa early advantage as he accounted for three of Sri Lanka’s first five in overcast conditions. The meltdown left the hosts reeling at 36 for 5 but that was offset by Thisara Perera and Kusal’s counter-attacking sixth-wicket stand worth 92. South Africa fought their way back through a Shamsi four-fer in the second half that ensured Sri Lanka didn’t run away to a compelling score.

Three of the top-five fell poking at deliveries in the corridor of uncertainty while Niroshan Dickwella chipped off a low full-toss to Shamsi at midwicket and Upul Tharanga was run out. Things could have been worse if not for an umpire’s referral that saved Thisara even before he opened his account. The Sri Lanka No. 7 guided a wide yorker off Rabada to Amla at first slip but the replays confirmed the ball had bounced off the surface near the stumps.

The hosts got a move on when Kusal Perera picked up a couple of boundaries off Ngidi, and Thisara did the same off Rabada in the following over to finally push Sri Lanka past the 50 mark in the 11th over. Boundaries started to flow more freely as the two Pereras feasted on some loose bowling by Phehlukwayo and the inexperience of Willem Mulder to expertly find the gaps. The duo took only 28 balls to bring up the fifty of their stand, and that swelled to 92 in no time.

The ordeal for South Africa lasted 8.5 overs but once du Plessis turned towards spin to break the fast-moving stand, South Africa assumed control of the game once again. Shamsi broke the threatening stand as he got rid of Thisara with a loopy delivery outside off that drew the batsman forward and kissed the bat on its way to the ‘keeper. With the aggressor of the partnership dismissed, for a stunning 30-ball 49, Kusal Perera assumed that role and Dhananjaya played a perfect second fiddle to him. Kusal Perera raised his 10th ODI fifty off 45 deliveries, in a 42-run stand with the all-rounder, who contributed a sedate 11 off 30.

Shamsi once again broke the stubborn stand as Dhananjaya failed to spot a wrong-un. Left to fend with the tail, Kusal Perera turned ultra aggressive and had to pay the price with his wicket soon after. He couldn’t even make proper use of the reprieve he was offered on 78 as he fell trying to reverse sweep Shamsi after adding three more runs to his tally. The Sri Lankan tail caved in soon after, adding 14 to take them to a sub-par yet face-saving 193.

Brief scores: Sri Lanka 193 all out in 34.3 overs (Kusal Perera 81, Thisara Perera 49; Tabraiz Shamsi 4-33, Kagiso Rabada 4-41) lost to South Africa 196/5 in 31 overs (JP Duminy 53*, Faf du Plessis 47, Quinton de Kock 47; Akila Dananjaya 3-50) by five wickets.

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