TELFORD VICE, Cape Town
IT took Sri Lanka 28 days to win a game on their tour of South Africa, but the hosts could benefit the most from that success.
Having been smashed 3-0 in only a dozen days in the test series the Lankans floundered to another loss in the 10-over shootout that the rain-affected first T20 became at Centurion on Friday.
But, just as the Groundhog Day syndrome threatened to set, in the visitors found form on an unusually subcontinental Wanderers pitch on Sunday – when they won the second T20.
And, just like that, Sri Lanka have a chance to take the edge off everything that has gone.
Because, if they win the third T20 at Newlands on Wednesday, they will clinch the series.
Neutrals wouldn’t begrudge the Lankans that sop considering the inept cricket they played in the tests.
But Farhaan Behardien is no neutral, and he won’t want to see that happen .
“We’ll go back and have some analysis and come up with with some gameplans in Cape Town,” South Africa’s T20 captain said after Sunday’s game.
“Hopefully the wicket won’t be as low or slow. There might be some pace and bounce in Cape Town; there always seems to be a bit of bounce.”
Behardien is likely to have that hope fulfilled.
“I’m always reluctant to say it’s going to be a belter but that’s what you’re aiming for in a T20,” Newlands groundsman Evan Flint said on Monday.
Flint added that his preparation plan was on track, right down to a welcome forecast for rain in hot, dry Cape Town on Tuesday.
All of which will only do South Africa’s experimental squad a power of good.
The series is an island of irrelevance in a sea of more important matters, what with the coming months featuring test series against England, India and Australia and the Champions Trophy.
How to avoid the rubber slipping off the public’s radar completely?
Make sure the contest is alive going into the last match.
Winning the series at Newlands on Wednesday isn’t likely to loom as a significant achievement when Behardien and his young players look back on their careers, but right now several members of the squad are looking ahead to the biggest game they have yet played.
To come through it in one piece – and with the win and the trophy in the bag – will be an important part of their cricketing education.
Wednesday’s game is just as vital for another player in South Africa’s squad, but for other reasons.
He is 32 years old and has 106 tests, 201 one-day internationals and 71 T20 internationals to his credit.
So there is nothing he doesn’t know about crunch games.
But, despite scoring a century in an amateur match on Sunday, he doesn’t know if his surgically repaired elbow is entirely as it needs to be if he is to be central to South Africa’s plans.
He is AB de Villiers and, on Wednesday, he could play his first match for South Africa since June.