Pace quartet sinks Sri Lanka to crushing series loss

In the age of declining Test crowds, the Wanderers’ status as South Africa’s biggest cricket stadium often counts against it. On weekdays, when no more than 10,000 people show up, it resembles a soulless empty bowl. But on Saturday (January 14), a healthy crowd rolled in and roared its approval as South Africa romped to a series whitewash with a comprehensive performance.

Faced with an aggro audience, aggro fast bowling, an aggro pitch and some extraordinary catching, Sri Lanka wilted to their lowest total of the series, then fared little better after Faf du Plessis had ordered them to bat again. Having started the day on 80 for 4 in response to South Africa’s 426, they were bowled out for 131 and 177 to lose by an innings and 118 runs. Their humiliation was complete.

South Africa were irrepressible. They dropped two catches, only one of them straightforward, but were otherwise completely relentless. While the pitch was perhaps a touch slower than it had been on the second day, when 11 wickets fell, South Africa’s fast bowling quartet consistently found movement and all offered something different. They shared the wickets around generously.

The pattern for the day was laid down early as Dinesh Chandimal edged behind off Vernon Philander in the second full over. When Angelo Mathews was brilliantly caught by Quinton de Kock as he flung himself full-length to his right, South Africa were into the tail and unlikely to take long to wrap up the innings. Duanne Olivier and Wayne Parnell replaced Philander and Rabada and picked up the remaining four wickets, by which time South Africa had only been in the field for 17 overs.

That left du Plessis with the straightforward decision of enforcing the follow-on for the first time as South Africa’s Test captain. Sri Lanka’s first innings had lasted just 45.4 overs, South Africa led by 295 and conditions were ripe for the bowlers. Rabada’s first ball of the second innings gave de Kock his fifth catch of the match as Kaushal Silva went for a duck, and South Africa were on their way once more.

For nearly an hour either side of lunch, Dimuth Karunaratne and Kusal Mendis provided Sri Lanka’s best period of resistance. While Karunaratne stuck doggedly to his defensive technique and held the South African seamers off – with a spot of luck as Dean Elgar dropped him in the slips – Mendis showed some long-awaited enterprise. The No. 3 adapted to Philander by coming down the wicket to him, unsettling the seamer’s natural line and length.

Yet du Plessis responded by bringing on Parnell, and the left-armer bowled his sharpest spell of the Test, gaining considerable swing into the right-hander and consistently hitting a dangerous length. The angle eventually proved too much for Mendis (24) as he attempted to cut a delivery that was only just missing his stumps, and chopped it on.

Olivier took the next two, both caught by du Plessis at second slip, with Mathews’s dismissal providing the real nail in the coffin for Sri Lanka. The Sri Lankan skipper had spent just two and a half hours off the field since his dismissal in the first innings. Not only was his departure in the second knock crucial, but the manner of it was crushing as du Plessis leapt high in the air to grab a one-handed snare.

Thereafter, with the clouds clearing, it was obvious that the match would not see a fourth day, and the question turned to who would claim the remaining scalps. The answer was largely Parnell, who marked his return to the South African side with figures of 4 for 51 in the second innings and 6 for 89 in the match. Rabada finally ended Karunaratne’s (50) resistance when he bulldozed through the left-hander’s defences with a full delivery, and Olivier helped out with the tail to finish with five wickets in the match. In all, Sri Lanka’s two innings added up to 88.1 overs – less than a day’s cricket.

While Duminy was named the Man of the Match for his 155 on the first day, which came in a 292-run partnership with Hashim Amla that nearly beat Sri Lanka’s match total on its own. Rabada and Philander, with 19 and 17 wickets respectively in the series, each had a claim to the man of the series award, but ultimately it went to Dean Elgar. The left-hander was the top scorer in a series that encountered consistently challenging surfaces, and his century on the opening day in Cape Town had played a vital role in South Africa wrapping up the series at the first opportunity.

Brief Scores: South Africa 426 all out (Jean-Paul Duminy 155, Hashim Amla 134; Nuwan Pradeep 4-78, Lahiru Kumara 4-107) beat Sri Lanka 131 & 177 f/o (Dimuth Karunaratne 50, Suranga Lakmal 31; Wayne Parnell 4-51, Duanne Olivier 3-38) by an innings and 118 runs.

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