TELFORD VICE, Johannesburg
THERE’S no place quite like the Wanderers when South Africa win a match there.
That goes double when the match seals a series whitewash.
And triple when it’s the bowlers who do the winning.
So it was – all of it – in front of the bolshiest audience in the country on Saturday, when Faf du Plessis’ men beat Sri Lanka by an innings and 118 runs with more than two days to spare.
That clinched a 3-0 triumph against a Lankan side who, by the end, were little more than punchbags in pads.
Vernon Philander and Kagiso Rabada, whose bowling shimmered with quality, deserved many more than the three wickets they took between them.
But they won’t begrudge Wayne Parnell, who played his first test in almost three years, and debutant Duanne Olivier their success – they shared seven wickets.
The visitors lost 16 wickets on Saturday and scored only 228 runs. That’s a miserable average of 14.25.
It’s also testament to a damn fine bowling performance backed up by outrageous catching.
The most outrageous grab of the lot belonged to Du Plessis, who looked like a leaping Statue of Liberty at second slip when he somehow found the height and the wherewithal to snare Angelo Mathews’ screaming top edge.
Which prompted an outrageous question: “Can we call you the Flying Dutchman?”
“Yes,” came the quick and smiling reply.
The noise that rose from the 13 000, and more, who saw all that go down was worthy of a crowd twice the size.
They had chosen to ignore a forecast for rain for much of the day, and had passed up the opportunity to watch Rory McIlroy play in the South African Open at Glendower.
And they were richly rewarded for that choice. Good on you, Joburg.
It’s difficult to see past the totality of South Africa’s domination in the third test, but they built towards a performance like that throughout the series.
They were helped by pitches tailored to their strengths and designed to take Rangana Herath, Sri Lanka’s superbly subtle slow left-armer, out of the contest.
But South Africa still needed to play well to make the most of those conditions, and Du Plessis showed he was willing to do things the hard way when he chose to bat at the Wanderers despite having gone in with an all-seam attack.
The decision seemed odd, but with plenty of rain predicted it made sense for the batsmen to suck it up.
“I had a word with (Du Plessis) in PE but we knew coming into this series that we were going to have green wickets to bat on,” opening batsman Dean Elgar said.
“As a player you just have to adapt to it. We’re all professionals.
“Fortunately it went well for quite a few of our batsmen and personally it was the best series that I’ve had, so maybe I should bat more on green wickets.”
Elgar’s 308 runs and average of 61.60 made him the series’ leading batsman in those departments.
All six top runscorers were South Africans, and they owned all five centuries and six of the nine half-centuries made during the rubber.
Like Elgar, JP Duminy and Quinton de Kock averaged more than 50. The best of the Lankans’ averages was Mathews’ 29.66.
Sri Lanka’s bowlers were more competitive than their batsmen, particularly Suranga Lakmal and Lahiru Kumara, who earned respect and with it 12 and 11 wickets.
But they were not in the class of Rabada and Philander, who took 19 scalps at 17.15 and 17 at 14.58.
They bridged the gap in the attack that opened when Kyle Abbott cried Kolpak after the second test so completely that his absence at the Wanderers went unnoticed.
Another anxiety, that of Hashim Amla’s form, was resolved in fine style when he scored 134 at the Wanderers – his first century in 14 test innings.
That Amla did so in his 100th test was as poetic as his batting. At least, in the second half of what became a masterful innings.
The only concern going into South Africa’s next test series, in New Zealand in March, is the form of Temba Bavuma.
He’s a far better player than his 21 runs in five innings would suggest, but he is the prime candidate for the chop when AB de Villiers recovers from his elbow surgery.
That’s if De Villiers returns: intriguingly, both Du Plessis and Russell Domingo seemed less than certain on Saturday that De Villiers would continue his test career.
Right now, that almost doesn’t matter.
Yes, Sri Lanka made for poor opposition. But South Africa’s emphatically superior performance told its own story.
They won by 206 run at St George’s Park and by 282 runs at Newlands before thundering to victory at the Wanderers.
“You’re expected, in these conditions, to be on top of Sri Lanka at times,” Du Plessis said.
“But for me it was making sure that 95 or 99% of the time we could string together consistent performances and we’ve done that.
“I reckon, out of the 13 days of test cricket we’ve been on top for 95% of the time.”
Wrong on both counts. South Africa needed only 12 days to win all three tests, and they bossed the Lankans 99.99% of the time.