Match Report – SA vs SL 4th Match, Group D, June 03, 2024

South Africa 80 for 4 (De Kock 20, Hasaranga 2-22, Shanaka 1-6) beat Sri Lanka 77 (Nortje 4-7, Rabada 2-21, Maharaj 2-22, Baartman 1-9) by six wickets

South Africa opened their T20 World Cup campaign in authoritative fashion by bowling Sri Lanka out for their lowest total in the format and chasing 78 runs inside 17 overs to secure two points. At the first official T20I match to be played at the newly-created stadium at Eisenhower Park, we learnt more about the conditions than either of the two sides. The surface is tricky to bat on, there’s inconsistent bounce, not much turn and the venue has big square boundaries, which are difficult to breach.

Sri Lanka chose to bat first and were on the back foot almost immediately. Their powerplay yielded just 24 runs, and they had their lowest ten-over score: 40 for 5. South Africa’s four-seam attack adapted to conditions quickly, went fuller upfront, varied pace well and were disciplined. Their headliner was Anrich Nortje, who put in his best performance since returning from a stress fracture that sidelined him from the international game for almost nine months. Nortje’s 4 for 7, his career-best figures, was embroidered with high-class pace – he touched 150kph – and excellent use of the slower ball. He was complemented by World Cup debutant Ottneil Baartman, who bowled 20 dot balls in total, the joint-most by a bowler in an innings at a T20 World Cup, equalling Ajantha Mendis against Zimbabwe in 2012.

As a result of the South Africans combined efforts, only three Sri Lankan batters got into double figures, and only one partnership – their seventh-wicket stand between Dasun Shanaka and Angelo Mathews – was worth more than 20. They’ll rue not getting another 20 or 30 runs because that could have made things really tricky for South Africa. At 58 for 4 in the 13th over, 100 would have been a tough ask but 78 was within reach. Heinrich Klaasen and David Miller took them home with 22 balls to spare.

In all, 127 out of the 214 balls faced by the batters in this game were dots, the most dots in a Men’s T20 World Cup game.

Baartman strikes with his first ball

Dreams do come true and Baartman is living proof of that. After a decade in the domestic system with little recognition and a dalliance with giving up cricket for a career in the South African National Defence Force, he was the SA20’s leading wicket-taker this season until the final, when Marco Jansen leapfrogged him, and earned a call-up to the T20 World Cup squad. Before last month, he had never even been out of South Africa but if the magnitude of the occasion overwhelmed him you’d never have known. Given the ball in the fourth over, Baartman saw the lengths Jansen employed and delivered his first one full and wide. Pathum Nissanka sensed an opportunity to clear deep third but got a thick edge to Heinrich Klaasen and made Baartman the first South African bowler, and 18th overall, to take a wicket with his opening delivery at a World Cup.

The numbers – 11 T20 matches since comeback from a stress fracture in March, 40 overs, 449 runs, nine wickets – suggested picking Nortje was a risk but the coach, Rob Walter, believed otherwise. He backed Nortje’s selection based on his raw pace and the ability to vary it, and Nortje justified his backing in spectacular fashion. Brought on as the fifth bowler, after the powerplay, Nortje followed what he saw his fellow quicks doing and resisted the short ball for fuller lengths. He was rewarded with his fifth ball as Kamindu Mendis tried to flick him over square leg but the shot lacked power and found Reeza Hendricks instead. Kusal Mendis tried to clear a 150kph ball over the big square boundary but was well-caught by Tristan Stubbs, looking into the sun. Charith Asalanka went the same way as Kamindu, and Angelo Mathews was rushed into the hook shot and top-edged. Nortje finished with impeccable figures of 4 for 7.

Aiden Markram captained South Africa to the Under-19 World Cup title in 2014. Mathews was part of the Sri Lankan side that won the 2014 T20 World Cup. And neither of them, nor their countries, have enjoyed international triumph since so there was something special about them facing off in the third over of South Africa’s innings. Mathews controlled the exchange, with length balls on off stump, and then issued a warning. He found seam movement that jagged into Markram at around 120kph and hit him on the box. Markram needed some medical attention and saw out the next two balls with the respect they deserved. He took a single off the last delivery to spoil what would have been a flawless over from Mathews, who was replaced by Dasun Shanaka for the next over. That brought the reward Sri Lanka wanted, when Shanaka squared Markram up with a delivery that seamed away, took the outside edge and was well caught low down by Kusal Mendis at wide first slip.

There weren’t very many to choose from, with only three fours and three sixes in Sri Lanka’s innings and the same number from South Africa to create a) an antidote to the IPL and b) a match of old-fashioned grind and some tension. What there was dissipated when Heinrich Klaasen, arguably the best boundary-hitter at the event, hit Wanindu Hasaranga over long-on and then straight down the ground for six and then four to all but end the match. With those two shots, Klaasen showed off the quality of the base from which he hits the ball and the power with which he hits it, and South Africa will hope to see a lot more of that as the tournament goes on. For today, it was enough to secure victory.

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