TELFORD VICE, Cape Town
NOBODY seemed to care much that South Africa lost their T20 series against Sri Lanka at Newlands on Wednesday.
Despite Imran Tahir’s 3/18, the Lankans scrambled to a three-wicket win to claim their first trophy in any format in this country.
South Africa’s 169/5 was the fourth-highest first innings in the 15 T20 internationals played at the ground, but the visitors hauled in the target with a ball to spare and thanks largely to Seekkuge Prasanna – who batted through three partnerships for his unbeaten 37.
But of more importance than all that, apparently, was that AB de Villiers was back. And back with a bang.
De Villiers, playing his first match in any format for South Africa since June because of an elbow injury and subsequent surgery, blazed 63 off 44 balls.
He hit three sixes – down the ground, swept over backward square leg from one knee, and pulled – and drilled his two fours through point and square leg.
It was as if he had never been away for the eight tests, six one-day internationals and two T20s South Africa played in his absence.
How they won 13 of those games without him was a question worth asking during a match in which only two of their other batsmen reached 30.
More alarming than that, South Africa dropped five catches.
De Villiers came to the crease at the fall of the first wicket in the fifth over and was in command until the 18th, when he slashed a low full toss from Nuwan Kulasekara and was caught at backward point.
He shared 71 at 7.88 runs an over with Reeza Hendricks for the second wicket, the biggest stand of the innings.
Hendricks’ 41 and a late blast of 32 not out off 15 balls by Mangaliso Mosehle were the only other highlights of a lacklustre batting effort by the South Africans, whose next highest score was Jon-Jon Smuts’ 19.
Mosehle hammered Isuru Udana for three sixes in the last over of the innings, which yielded 21 runs.
The only Lankan bowler who conceded fewer than a run a ball was Lakshan Sandakan, who took 1/23 from his four overs.
South Africa’s challenge was made significantly more difficult when Lungi Ngidi, the series’ leading wicket-taker going into the match, limped off with a bruised hip sustained while diving in the field and having sent down only two of his overs.
And while Niroshan Dickwella and Dhananjaya de Silva were clubbing South Africa’s bowlers to all parts in their third-wicket stand, the visitors seemed locked and loaded for victory.
But the home side stormed back into contention when Tahir had Dickwella caught on the midwicket fence for 68 and De Silva stumped for 19 only four balls apart.
Ten balls later debutant Dane Paterson ran out Kusal Mendis off his own bowling, and Sri Lanka had lost three wickets for 26 runs.
With the Lankans needing five runs Asela Gunaratne top-edged Paterson for four and immediately grabbed a souvenir stump in the mistaken belief that he had secured victory.
After apologising to the umpires Gunaratne put Paterson through the covers to secure the win legitimately.