La dolce vita sours in Italy

In a country that has won it four times, the World Cup doesn’t exist. Not this year …

Times Select

TELFORD VICE in Florence

EIGHT of the first nine tabloid pages of the May 10 edition of La Gazzetta dello Sport were used to cover the previous evening’s Coppa Italia final between Juventus and Milan in Rome. The odd page out carried an ad.

There were plenty of weighty articles, striking photographs and pithy graphics in the famously pink pages analysing every which angle, and then some, of Juve’s 4-0 demolition job to claim the cup for the 13th time.

La Gazzetta is the heavyweight among of the three Italian newspapers devoted entirely to the games people play.

It’s 122 years old and the country’s biggest paper of any flavour with a daily circulation of more than 400 000 and a readership upwards of three million.

So far, so Italian. Bar taking tennis and cycling seriously — the Giro d’Italia ended a few weeks ago — and segueing into European basketball and bits and bobs of volleyball and golf, sport equals football in the press in these parts. Bellissimo, if you’re a fan. 

But there was not a word on the biggest football story of all in La Gazzetta on May 10, and few have since been printed.

The paper weighed in at 64 pages a Friday or so ago. Only two featured the biggest football tournament of them all.

To read those pages you first had to get through 36 crammed with news and views on Serie A — which ended on May 20 — Serie B, and other, even lesser stuff.

It’s as if the World Cup doesn’t exist in Italy, which is bizarre considering they have won it four times: tied with Germany and one fewer than Brazil for the most triumphs.

And it’s true: the World Cup doesn’t exist in Italy. Not this year at least.

For the first time since 1958 — 60 years ago, when the nation was trying to recover from World War II — Italy are not part of football’s global showpiece.

Along with all their World Cup successes they have suffered strange exits. In 1974 they crashed out in the first round at the hands of Poland. That wasn’t as bad as the catastrophe in South Africa in 2010 when New Zealand sent them home, which was marginally more galling than what happened four years later, when Costa Rica decided their fate. 

But this time it’s worse, much worse. In September, Italian football’s head suit, Carlo Tavecchio, said: “Us? Out of the World Cup? That would be the Apocalypse.”

In November, after Sweden beat Italy 1-0 on aggregate in a two-leg play-off, the Apocalypse was now.

Gianluigi Buffon, Italy’s captain, failed to fight off the tears as he announced his international retirement on live television. Not for him the copout of a cheesy video on social media, a-la AB de Villiers. 

“FINE”, ran the massive headline on La Gazzetta’s front page the next day under a photograph of Buffon flinging his hands into the air in despair. In English “FINE” would be, well, fine. In Italian it means “THE END”.

And here many Italians are, seven months later, still pretending there isn’t an elephant in Rome’s Colosseum, swimming through Venice’s canals, and perched atop Florence’s duomo.

For others, what happened in November wasn’t about elephants but about chickens — as in those that alighted in the 2006 “Calciopoli” matchfixing scandal that earned Juventus relegation while four other clubs were docked points — coming home to roost.

That Italy went on to win the World Cup that year fooled some of the people some of the time that the problem had been solved.

But the exposure of more matchfixing in 2011 led to the arrests of former Italy striker Giuseppe Signori and Lazio vice-captain Stefano Mauri.

That prompted foreign stars who would previously have put playing in Italy up there with a place on the staff of an English, German or Spanish club to pass on the pasta.

Serie A, lest we forget, is the league that provided both Champions League finalists in 2003, when Juventus and Milan clashed in front of a crowd 62 315 at Old Trafford. It was one of only six times in the 64 European finals played so far that both teams have been from the same country, and the only occasion the teams have been Italian.

Those days are gone. Whether they will return depends on several factors.

Will Italians ever again believe their football to be clean? Will foreigners, particularly quality foreign players, do the same?

Will Italians think it worth the bother to try to regain their lofty heights on the world stage, or content themselves with indulging in their still rich and enriching club culture?

For someone from a country like South Africa, where winning the cricket World Cup means far more than it should, winning the football World Cup is out of the question, and winning the rugby World Cup has been done, twice, Italy will be in a twilight zone all the way through the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

What’s real and what isn’t is difficult to fathom. At least, it is for Italians.

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SA need to end T20 torture in Taunton

TMG Digital

TELFORD VICE in Lisbon

FOR South Africans, Taunton will always be where Mark Boucher’s career was ended by a bail tumbling into his eye.

As of Wednesday, we have more reasons not to be cheerful about the nonetheless pretty Somerset town where cider rules.

None of those reasons are as serious as what happened to Boucher on July 9, 2012. But what happened to South Africa there this week will hurt in other ways, and for a long time.

To be part of a T20 triangular that featured double-headers for each team would have been exciting, and more so considering Dané van Niekerk’s side were first up to play two games on the same day.

But the good feelings faded once New Zealand’s total of 216/1 hove into view.

It was built on Suzie Bates’ undefeated 124 — which she hammered off 66 balls — and the opening stand of 182 she shared with Sophie Divine, who scored 73.

Only Marizanne Kapp and Van Niekerk got away with economy rates in the single figures.

The total and the partnership were world records for women’s T20 internationals.

Van Niekerk’s 58 was the best effort in South Africa’s reply of 150/6, which earned the Kiwis victory by 66 runs.

As bad as that was for the South Africans, there was worse to come in the second game in the diminutive form of England’s Tammy Beaumont — who reached a century off 47 balls on her way to making 116.

Beaumont and Danni Wyatt put on 147 for the first wicket, and England’s total of 250/3 usurped New Zealand’s freshly minted record.

This time only Van Niekerk escaped without conceding at least 10 runs an over.

South Africa’s captain was also their only player to fire, scoring 72 off 51 deliveries, in their total of 129/6.

On top of that, South Africa earned another unwanted milestone: England’s 121-run victory was the biggest by runs in women’s T20 internationals.

Beaumont survived a missed stumping by Lizelle Lee and a catch on the boundary by Sune Luus, who made a spectacular grab only for her momentum to take her over the rope ball and all.

But those agonies paled next to what Beaumont said on Sky Sports: “We saw the Kiwi girls broke [the world record] this morning.

“‘Robbo’ [Mark Robinson, England’s coach] told us in the pre-match chat not to try and break it but I think a few of the girls got a bit of a challenge on.

“We feel a bit sorry for the South Africa girls having to go two in two, but that’s the way it goes.”

The opponents’ coach telling his players to go easy on you?

One of those players feeling sympathy for you?

Eina.

And it might not get any less painful on Saturday, when South Africa return to the scene of Wednesday’s crimes for the first match of the home side’s double-header.

Van Niekerk could be seen reading the riot act to her team between games on Wednesday.

Clearly, that didn’t work, and just what she can do to restore respectability — let’s not talk about being competitive just yet — can’t be measured in stats.

If it could, it would take a world record effort.

SA secure 19 Tests against big three — including, perhaps, Boxing Day at the MCG

TMG Digital

TELFORD VICE in Lisbon

NINETEEN Tests against the big three are South Africa’s prime engagements South Africa on the International Cricket Council’s (ICC) 2018-23 programme.

The schedule, which was announced on Wednesday, features a World Test Championship (WTC) and a One-Day International League (ODIL) for the first time along with the 2020 and 2021 editions of the World T20 and the 2023 World Cup. The Champions Trophy has been scrapped.

South Africans’ interest will be drawn to the fact that their team are due to be in Australia in December 2022.

That should mean a resumption of South Africa’s involvement in cricket’s most iconic match outside of the Ashes: the Boxing Day Test in Melbourne, which they last featured in in December 2008.

The practice was halted because Cricket South Africa wanted to re-establish their own Boxing Day tradition, which started in Durban in 1913.

South Africa’s post-2019 World Cup schedule starts in October next year with three Tests in India.

They will play another three Tests, this time at home, against the Indians in December 2021. 

Their other series against Australia is at home in February 2021, and they will be in England for three Tests in July 2022.

South Africa will play two rubbers of two Tests each against West Indies, and one of two matches against each of Sri Lanka, Pakistan, New Zealand and Bangladesh.

The leading nine teams in the rankings will contest — in six series, home and away, “against opponents they have mutually selected”, according to an ICC release — the inaugural WTC from July 15, 2019 to April 30, 2021. The final is scheduled for June 2021.

South Africa will have at least 45 games in each of the white-ball formats, excluding tournaments.

All 12 Test-playing teams and the Netherlands will be part of the ODIL, which starts on May 1, 2020 and ends on March 31, 2022.

The league will “serve as a qualification pathway”, the release said, for the 2023 World Cup in India, which will involve the hosts and the seven leading teams as at March 31, 2022. Five more sides will come from the World Cup qualifier.

“The introduction of the [WCT] and [ODIL] will give these formats the much needed context to ensure their long-term viability along with the popular T20 format,” the release quoted CSA acting chief executive Thabang Moroe as saying.

“The Championship and the league have been designed in a manner that is easy for all stakeholders, especially the fans, to follow as it leads up to a [WCT] final and qualification for the World Cup which makes all international matches important.

“We look forward to following the progress of our Proteas in both these competitions and to the enhanced products that we will be able to offer to our fans, our commercial partners and our players during our various bilateral tours. It is truly a win-win situation for all.”

A CSA source told TMG Digital that, privately, the suits were “not happy with where we are currently but it remains a work in progress”.

South Africa have no fixtures scheduled against Zimbabwe nor Afghanistan despite the facts that both are Test-playing countries — though neither are part of the WCT — and that all 104 ICC members have been awarded T20 international status.

South Africa’s fixtures, not including tournaments, from 2019 to 2023, by month of series start:

2019:

Oct: 3 Tests v India (Away)

Dec: 4 Tests, 3 ODIs, 3 T20s v England (Home)

2020:

Feb: 3 ODIs, 3 T20s 2020 v Australia (H)

Mar: 3 ODIs, 3 T20s v India (A)

Jun: 3 ODIs, 3 T20s v Sri Lanka (A)

Jul: 2 Tests, 3 T20s v West Indies (A)

Oct: 3 ODIs, 3 T20s v Pakistan (H)

2021:

Jan: 2 Tests v Sri Lanka (H)

Jan: 2 Test, 3 T20s v Pakistan (A)

Feb: 3 Tests v Australia (H)

Mar: 3 ODIs, 3 T20s v England (H)

Jun: 3 ODIs, 3 T20s v Ireland (A)

Sep: 3 ODIs v Netherlands (H)

Oct: 3 ODIs, 3 T20s v India (A)

Dec: 3 Tests, 3 T20s v India (H)

2022:

Jan: 3 ODIs, 3 T20s v Australia (A)

Feb: 2 Tests, 3 T20s v New Zealand (A)

Mar: 2 Tests, 3 ODIs v Bangladesh (H)

Jul: 3 Tests v England (A)

Aug: 2 ODIs v Ireland (A)

Aug: 3 ODIs, 3 T20s v England (A)

Sep: 2 Tests, 3 T20s v West Indies (H)

Dec: 3 Tests, 3 ODIs v Australia (A)

2023:

Jan: 2 ODIs v SL (A)

Jan: 2 ODIs v Ireland (A)   

Dark days for Test cricket even as T20 brightens the game

For some Test cricket should have stopped growing in 1982, when Sri Lanka were elevated.

TMG Digital

TELFORD VICE in Lisbon

TEST cricket has added to its slate of teams for the first time in 18 years in recent weeks, but one of those sides were hammered by the kind of margin that suggests they don’t belong.

Not that the established sides are doing a great job of flying the flag for the oldest format, what with two of them embroiled in ball-tampering scandals since March.

These are dark days for Test cricket, which is losing relevance and stature in a sport that is skewing steadily towards its T20 incarnation.

Salt is being rubbed into that widening wound by the fact that Australia’s Steve Smith and David Warner — both damned as ball-tamperers in South Africa in March — will play in the Global T20 Canada, which starts on June 28.

Sri Lanka captain Dinesh Chandimal has since also been found guilty of illegally changing the condition of the ball in a Test against West Indies in St Lucia.

Unlike the Australians, who used sandpaper, Chandimal’s contraband was a sweet in his pocket.

The grand old game was in a happier place as recently as May, when Ireland became the first team since Bangladesh in 2000 to play their inaugural Test — against Pakistan in Dublin.

Rain washed out the entire first day and Pakistan won by five wickets on the fifth, but Kevin O’Brien’s 118 will keep Irish eyes smiling for years yet.

There was less for Afghanistan to celebrate in Bangalore last week, when India batted for a day and a session and then dismissed the debutants twice in the remaining two sessions to win by an innings and 262 runs.

“We were surprised with the match ending in two days because our team is good,” Afghanistan’s captain, Asghar Stanikzai, said of his side’s rude awakening to the reality of how tough Test cricket is to play competently, nevermind successfully.

The Afghans, who have played 98 one-day internationals and 66 T20s since 2009, were clearly outclassed.

That will fuel arguments that Test cricket should remain trapped in the amber that was set in November 2000, when Bangladesh became the 10th team to be allowed to play in whites for up to five days.

Even that is debatable considering the Bangladeshis have won only 10 of their 106 Tests while losing 80. Much the same applies to Zimbabwe, who have won 11 of their 105 matches and lost 67.  

That means, for some, that the world of Test cricket should have stopped growing in 1982, when Sri Lanka were inaugurated as the eighth member of the club.

Others will want to peg that date at 1952, when Pakistan played their first Test.

How about 20 years earlier, which saw India’s elevation?

Now the Indians drive global cricket’s economy — and an important part of the engine they have created to do so is the Indian Premier League, the archetypical T20 tournament.

But the snobs should consider a few truths before they try to stop anyone but England, Australia, South Africa, West Indies, New Zealand and India from playing Test cricket.

For decades the South Africans were allowed not only to keep fielding all-white teams, but to refuse to play against anything except all-white teams.

The West Indians are an embarrassment to their own proud history, losing almost 54% of the Tests they have played in the past 20 years. From 1970 to 1990 they lost less than 16%. 

And the first team to be bowled out twice in a day were shot out for 58 and 82 by England in Manchester in 1952.

They weren’t, of course, Zimbabwe — who are nonetheless the only side to suffer that fate twice — Bangladesh, Ireland or Afghanistan.

Instead, they were the team that defines the game as we have come to know it.

That’s right: India. Try telling them they don’t belong.

Tahir among notable absentees for SA in Sri Lanka

TMG Digital

TELFORD VICE in Lisbon

NO AB de Villiers and Morné Morkel was a given, no Dale Steyn was all but confirmed last week, but no Imran Tahir?

The leg spinner is South Africa’s top ranked one-day bowler, second among the world’s spinners, and sixth overall.

Why wouldn’t the selectors pick him for the five ODIs and sole T20 South Africa will play in Sri Lanka in July and August? 

“ … we have taken the strategic decision to rest Imran Tahir so that we can get a clearer picture as to who our best second spinner is to back him up at the World Cup,” selection convenor Linda Zondi was quoted as saying in a Cricket South Africa release on Monday that named South Africa’s squad.

“Imran will be our first-choice spinner at the World Cup [in England next June] but, if we play him against Sri Lanka, it is unlikely that we will be able to play both Tabraiz Shamsi and Keshav Maharaj.

“By taking this route we will be able to play the two of them together.

“Tabraiz has been the outstanding bowler in franchise white-ball cricket this past season.

“Keshav has been outstanding for us in red-ball cricket and we need to give him the opportunity to show us what he can do at international level in the ODI format.”

Left-arm wrist spinner Shamsi was the leading wicket-taker and topped the averages in last season’s franchise one-day competition.

He had the third best strike rate and was 11th in terms of economy rate with a respectable 4.50.

To pigeonhole left-arm orthodox spinner Maharaj, who has taken 74 wickets in his 20 Tests, as a one-format specialist would insult this intelligent, versatile player.

He has featured in only two ODIs — both against England last year — and deserves more.

But without Steyn, who told TMG Digital last week that he would return to Hampshire after the Test series that starts the tour to Sri Lanka, Morkel, who retired from international cricket in April, and Tahir, South Africa could be short on experience.

Kagiso Rabada, Andile Phehlukwayo and Lungi Ngidi have played 77 ODIs between them, and more than half of those caps — 48 — belong to Rabada.

Steyn, Morkel and Tahir have more than four times as many games in the 50-over stuff behind them: 318.

De Villiers, who called it quits for South Africa last month, ostensibly has been replaced by Reeza Hendricks, who is uncapped but for a dozen T20 internationals.

But the innovative Heinrich Klaasen is also in the squad and could be a better fit for the mission impossible of stepping into De Villiers diamond-soled shoes.

Junior Dala, who has played three T20s for South Africa, cracks the nod in the wake of Morkel calling it quits in April.

Wiaan Mulder steps into the breach left by Chris Morris, who was not considered because he is recovering from a back injury.

The South Africa A squad to play to four-day games in India in July and August was also named, along with a side for a triangular A team tournament featuring India and Australia in India.

Batsmen Sarel Erwee and Rassie van der Dussen, and fast bowlers Mthiwekhaya Nabe and Anrich Nortje, have not played at this level before, while Temba Bavuma’s name sticks out in the one-day squad.

Bavuma has carved a niche as a dogged Test batsman, and would add significantly to his worth by finding the extra gear required to succeed in the shorter stuff.

South Africa (ODI):

Faf du Plessis (captain), Hashim Amla, Junior Dala, Quinton de Kock, JP Duminy, Reeza Hendricks, Heinrich Klaasen, Keshav Maharaj, Aiden Markram, David Miller, Wiaan Mulder, Lungi Ngidi, Andile Phehlukwayo, Kagiso Rabada, Tabraiz Shamsi.

Fixtures:

July 29: 1st ODI, Dambulla

Aug 1: 2nd ODI, Dambulla

Aug 5: 3rd ODI, Kandy

Aug 8: 4th ODI, Kandy

Aug 12: 5th ODI, Colombo

Aug 14: T20 international, Colombo

South Africa A (four-day):

Khaya Zondo (captain), Sarel Erwee, Zubayr Hamza, Beuran Hendricks, Pieter Malan, Senuran Muthusamy, Mthiwekhaya Nabe, Anrich Nortje, Duanne Olivier, Dane Piedt, Dwaine Pretorius, Rudi Second, Rassie van der Dussen, Malusi Siboto, Shaun von Berg.

South Africa A (one-day):

Khaya Zondo (captain), Temba Bavuma, Farhaan Behardien, Gihahn Cloete, Theunis de Bruyn, Robbie Frylinck, Beuran Hendricks, Sisanda Magala, Pieter Malan, Senuran Muthusamy, Dane Paterson, Rudi Second, Dwaine Pretorius, Tabraiz Shamsi, Malusi Siboto.

What it means to be Portuguese in Ronaldo’s country

“Football is an opera injected straight into the vein.” – Carlos do Carmo, fado singer

IMG_0957

Lisboetas saddle up to get a better view of the big screen.

Times Select

TELFORD VICE in Lisbon

THE airport in his hometown has been named after him. The president himself has dubbed him a “Grand Officer of the Order of Prince Henry”. Astronomers use his initials and shirt number to refer to a galaxy some 12.9-billion light years from earth.

And yet, the locals aren’t so sure about Cristiano Ronaldo.

A friend from Porto, who know lives in Lisbon, tells the story of watching a game in a bar in Madeira when Ronaldo — a son of Funchal, the capital of Madeira — scored for Portugal.

My friend catapulted upright in joy, which erupted from him in whoops and applause. But after a second or three he got the feeling that all was not as it should be, and it wasn’t: around him his fellow Portuguese, to a man and woman from the same Funchal where Ronaldo was born and raised before going to bigger, brighter places, sat almost as stoic as if CR7 had put the ball into his own net.

“They’re unhappy with him for not helping them more after the 2008 financial crisis,” my friend explained. “He did help them, but they say it wasn’t enough; he didn’t give every person on Madeira a lot of money.”

Ronaldo, who grew up poor as the fourth child of a gardener and a cook, is among the richest sport stars in the world with an estimated net worth of R5.24-billion.

He has made something of a second career out of giving away significant chunks of his fortune, and in August 2015 he was named “the most charitable athlete in the world” by the website athletesgonegood.com. 

Ronaldo can, of course, afford it and more. But his sense of duty extends further than throwing money at problems: in 2016 his video message to children in Syria was that they were “the true heroes” and “don’t lose hope”.

That, it seems, isn’t good enough for some people in Madeira, where — according to me friend — “they say, ‘Does he think he’s better than us just because he’s rich and famous?’”.

That view isn’t overtly noticeable in Lisbon, where Ronald’s likeness and jersey are ubiquitous. In one tiny shop, not a lot bigger than a phone booth, Superman looms large: for sale are his Portugal shirt and his home as well as his away Real Madrid jerseys along with two versions of Ronaldo pennants.

The Portuguese see themselves as a small nation peering out at a world of giants, and Ronaldo as their prime ambassador to that world. So they are resigned to him going off to make his fortune and build his legend with clubs like Real Madrid. But that doesn’t mean they have to like him.   

Portugal’s complicated relationship with their best ever player — Eusébio doesn’t count since he was Mozambican and didn’t move to Lisbon to play for Benfica until he was 18 — is among the most intriguing aspects for a South African who is in the capital during the World Cup.

You might think that relationship was uncomplicated forever on Friday, when Ronaldo delivered a shimmering performance to score all his team’s goals in a 3-3 thriller against Spain, the ancient enemy itself, in the teams’ World Cup opener in Sochi.

At a fan park in the Praça do Comércio, just metres from the Rio Tejo, the crowd swelled to several thousand in the hours before the game.

Scores of them improved their chances of a good view of the giant screen by clambering onto the statue of King José I on his horse, crushing snakes in his path, that towers over the square.

A public address announcer introducing Portugal’s team as the minutes to kick-off dwindled to single figures had three words when it came to Ronaldo: “Cristiano! Cristiano! Cristiano!” 

A fourth-minute penalty, banged hard, a weak 44-minute shot that somehow eluded David de Gea in Spain’s goal, and a vicious, hooking free kick from what would have been too close to goal for mere mortal players to level matters with two minutes on the clock fulfilled the announcer’s oblique prophesy. And more.

Every goal was cheered as if Ronaldo had singlehandedly won the 11th war between the countries. That’s right: they’ve fought 10 in the past.

But, if anything, Portugal’s relationship with their golden child is suddenly more complex than ever. Now they have to like the preening, rich, famous, charitable, brilliant bastard, whether they really like him or not.

And that in the throes of a World Cup in which Portugal hope to go at least as far as the third place they earned in 1966, when Eusébio scored nine goals in six games. Not that that hope is expressed above a whisper, if at all.

Nobody brags in this country (about anything, much less beating the world’s best at the world’s own game), nobody seems nervous (why would you be when you’re expecting your dream to be dashed), and nobody is under any illusion that the World Cup isn’t a trophy too far (“Yes, we won Euro in 2016, but this is much bigger,” is a commonly heard view).

In a film at a museum in the most Lisboa of Lisbon’s neighbourhoods, Alfama, that seeks to preserves the legacy of fado, the peculiarly Portuguese bluesy folk music, a maestro of the art, singer Carlos do Carmo, says: “Football? Football is an opera injected straight into the vein.”

That sounds like a compliment to the game, but Do Carmo smirks as he says it and motions like a heroin addict shooting up.

It’s gloomy but it’s real. It’s what the people here call saudade, a quality that Portuguese intellectual Aubrey Bell described in his 1912 book “In Portugal” as “a vague and constant desire for something that does not and probably cannot exist, for something other than the present”. Saudade, he wrote, is “not an active discontent or poignant sadness but an indolent dreaming wistfulness”.

The closest this reporter has come to understanding it hangs in a shop window in downtown Lisbon, where a Portugal jersey will set you back €84.90. A Spain version? €89.50. That’s €4.6 in degrees of separation, or about R71.

It doesn’t sound like much if you don’t consider the who, what and where of it all. That, in prosaic terms, is what it means to be Portuguese: proud but not smug; hopeful but not expectant; in love with Ronaldo but also a little in hate with him.

Saudade. Feel it; it is here.

Nothing gentle about SA’s start to life after AB

In Sri Lanka it’s all so … nice. Do not be fooled. 

Sunday Times

TELFORD VICE in Lisbon

FROM the distance of your television on the mornings you might spend watching South Africa’s tests in Galle and Colombo next month, Sri Lanka will seem a gentle place.

In Galle, the slumbering stone ramparts of the 430-year old fort look benignly on the cricket ground below, where motorcycle riders on the road beyond the boundary pause to watch a few overs.

In Colombo, the ancient uncles of the Sinhalese Sports Club stare at their zillionth game of cricket from rattan chairs buried deep in verandahs.

There is none of the raucousness and intensity, nor the alarming crush of humanity, that is part of the game elsewhere on the subcontinent.

In Sri Lanka it’s all so … nice.

Do not be fooled. 

South Africa won in Galle in July 2014 to set up only their second series success in Sri Lanka and their first since 1993.

It was unlovely trench cricket in which JP Duminy’s undefeated 100 took 30 more minutes than Dean Elgar’s 103. Faf du Plessis spent 349 balls on his scores of 80 and 37. The shine of Dale Steyn’s match haul of 9/99 was tarnished by Vernon Philander being done for ball-tampering.

The drawn Colombo match ended with Rangana Herath wheeling past Imran Tahir — who was prone with cramp for much of his time at the crease — and in to Philander, surrounded by fielders poised like vultures waiting for death.   

Galle’s pitch gave the bowlers nothing but it wasn’t cynical like Colombo’s, where any hope of a contest disappeared in the dust.   

Intense heat and humidity stalked like evil itself, melting every instinct into a lump of singular ambition: stay alive, dammit.

Sri Lanka are not what they were then, when Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene were still burnishing their careers, and Herath was dropped this week after Sri Lanka lost a Test to West Indies, in Port-of-Spain, for the first time in 10 years.

But Sri Lanka will still be a hell of a place for South Africa to come to terms with life after AB de Villiers.

Not that Steyn seemed bothered by that: “Somebody will have to step in for AB, but we’ve got some good players sitting on the fringes — Theunis [de Bruyn], Heinrich [Klaasen], someone like that.

“We’ll probably make one or two changes, according to conditions, but the Test team is pretty settled.”

The more important assignment, for Steyn, was the five one-day internationals that will follow the Tests.

“With the World Cup coming [in England next June] up you have to start not securing spots but identifying players.

“Who are the potential matchwinners, like AB was? Who are the big strike bowlers, like Morné [Morkel, since retired] was at the Champions Trophy last year?

“If you could identify those players that would be a big statement. Eyes on the one-day stuff: that’s the big thing.”

Steyn spoke from Southampton, where he is playing for Hampshire — and will probably return after the tests.

His eyes, then, will also be on a television far from Sri Lanka during the ODIs.

But he will know it’s not a gentle place.