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Bowlers, Amla give South Africa consolation win

Wisden India logo Wisden India 28-03-2016

They came dreaming of glory at Eden Gardens and departed with a whimper, Sri Lanka’s ICC World Twenty20 2016 campaign ending with no more wins than qualifiers Afghanistan. Despite all the changes in personnel, Sri Lanka, the defending champions, would not have visualised such a dispiriting run in the ICC World Twenty20 2016, which ended with a comfortable eight-wicket win for South Africa on Monday (March 28).

South Africa’s bowlers lifted themselves for one final push after Faf du Plessis won the toss at the Feroz Shah Kotla in New Delhi and put Sri Lanka in. There were no devils in the pitch, but the application of the bowlers combined with the lowered intensity of the match resulted in Sri Lanka being bowled out for only 120, in 19.3 overs. Ironically, this was the biggest turnout at the Kotla, a crowd upwards of 16,000 desperately willing AB de Villiers to give them a pyrotechnic display.

What the crowd witnessed – although they may not quite have registered it – was perhaps Dale Steyn’s final Twenty20 International. All through his career, South Africa have managed Steyn’s workload with foresight and precision and it’s difficult to see why he would have steamed in full tilt with so little at stake, unless of course, he was doing so in the knowledge that it may be his final fling. The manner in which du Plessis embraced Steyn after his spell of 4-0-33-1 suggested that this was a moment to be savoured.

As energetically as Steyn operated – the effort ball he sent down halfway down the pitch to Thisara Perera stuck in the surface giving him his only wicket of the day – it was a team effort rather than a one-man show that powered South Africa.

Aaron Phangiso accounted for the first two wickets, Dinesh Chandimal playing for the turn and being bowled while Lahiru Thirimanne, next ball, played for the straight one and was beaten by the turn to hear the death rattle of ball hitting stumps.

Malinda Siriwardana gambled against the rocket arm of du Plessis and lost; Shehan Jayasuriya played an ambitious shot before assessing the conditions; Tillakaratne Dilshan (36) swept and missed when he read Imran Tahir’s googly like it was written in Urdu, and Sri Lanka had collapsed to 85 for 6.

Without the strong shoulders and broad blade of Angelo Mathews, sitting the game out with a hamstring injury, all Sri Lanka could do was limp along, wickets coming regularly enough to put them out of their misery with only 120 on the board, before the 20 overs of the innings were even completed.

Quinton de Kock gave Sri Lanka some false hope, and kept the crowd interested, when he was tardy enough to allow an accurate and strong through from Dilshan to find him short of the crease, but the lack of runs on the board meant that South Africa could take their own sweet time in pacing the chase.

Hashim Amla and du Plessis then bedded down and tucked in. There was no call for anything extravagant and true to personality two consummate professionals set about getting the job done. South Africa had motored to 75 for 1 when du Plessis (31), pulled out the scoop shot to a full, straight ball from Suranga Lakmal. The ball crashed into bat before hitting pad, but S Ravi, the umpire, missed the deflection, much to the crowd’s delight.

Chants of AB! AB! AB! rang around the Kotla even as a dejected du Plessis dragged himself off the field. Every time de Villiers’s bat made contact with the ball a loud cheer rang out, even if it was a mere push into the deep for an uncomplicated single. Equally, every boundary Amla struck was greeted with a muted cheer as this left fewer opportunities for de Villiers to do his thing as the chase neared its inevitable conclusion.

Amla brought up a well constructed half-century, and in the process crossed 1000 Twenty20 International runs and, for a moment, the crowd put aside its de Villiers fetish and warmly applauded Amla. The crowd eventually got what they were after, de Villiers mowing Dasun Shanaka for a six in the 17th over. Amla, unbeaten on 56, watched de Villiers put the icing and the cherry on the cake, getting South Africa past the line with clean swing that deposited a Lakmal full-toss into the stands at midwicket.

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