CAPE TOWN – South Africa cruised to a fourth consecutive victory in the one-day international series against Sri Lanka, but they might have left Port Elizabeth with more questions than they arrived with.
The six-wicket triumph was satisfying enough, and they again saw Quinton de Kock and Faf du Plessis underline their importance to any World Cup ambitions. The duo have scored nearly two thirds of South Africa’s runs all summer, and they again stood out yesterday.
De Kock (51 off 57 balls) went to a fifth half-century score in a row, while the home captain was untroubled in an entertaining 43 off 38 balls. It’s elsewhere that SA still have questions.
Reeza Hendricks continued a lean patch, with a curious 8 off 16 balls. Then, with the top-order door ajar, Aiden Markram made easy work of getting to 29, before top-edging Kasun Rajitha to the deep, and ending an innings that had promised so, so much.
That has been his way for most of his short ODI career. It is difficult to understand, but Markram is yet to cement his place in the World Cup side, because he is yet to display the ruthless streak required in knockout cricket.
In the form he has shown for the Titans, on an easy wicket against a team already resigned to losing, he could have made his first half-century since his debut 66. But he didn’t, and the quiet concerns persist.
For their part, the visitors tried hard to get the match over with before the sun had even set over Summerstrand. Some of their shot-making in the first hour was shambolic, as they refused to apply themselves at the crease. One by one, they fell to ambitious strokes.
It was a procession that threatened to beat the Port Elizabeth rush hour traffic. The height – or depth – of their disdain was when Lasith Malinga dozed off while taking a single. Like a nine-year-old playing his first game of serious cricket, the visiting skipper pranced into the popping crease, and got run out while his bat came back to earth.
The Proteas would have been very happy with how they got nine wickets, but the final scalp became another messy affair. Not for the first time this summer, and certainly not the first against this foe.
Anrich Nortje, playing an international in front of his home crowd for the first time, watched his figures bloat from an impressive 3/19 to a frightful 3/57 in no time. He quickly realised that the pace that is a gift in domestic cricket can be a curse at the highest level.
Isuru Udana clattered 78 off just 57 balls, to register the fourth highest score by a No 9 in ODI history, and it was Nortje who bore the brunt of the brutal assault.
His skipper walked off with a comforting arm around the fast bowler, discussing a few things that might have been done differently. It didn’t matter in the match, but there were warning signs for SA in the latter stages of the innings.
Ruthless is a word that they will have to hold dear in the World Cup. Yesterday, they could have rolled Sri Lanka for 100, and then trounced them by nine wickets. Instead, they let them steal their way to 189, and then the Proteas lost some loose wickets on the way home.
It didn’t matter yesterday, but it will matter more soon enough.
The fifth and final ODI will be played at Newlands, on Saturday.