Defending champions Sri Lanka exited the World T20 with defeat in their final appearance. Instead, it was South Africa who left with a consolation win in a contest that lacked intensity as they eased past their opponents, first by restricting Sri Lanka to a small score, and then by clinically chasing it down.
For the first time in this World T20, South Africa’s attack had enough slow-bowling options – the two specialist spinners Aaron Phangiso and Imran Tahir, as well as the part-timer Farhaan Behardien – to strangle Sri Lanka’s spin-proficient line-up, minus the injured captain Angelo Mathews. South Africa’s bowlers left their batsmen a target of 121 and, with the ever-calm Hashim Amla as anchor, they had few problems reaching it.
But the victory will not gloss over the bigger picture and South Africa will still have questions to answer about their performances in earlier matches. Sri Lanka will face the same scrutiny and have the added worry of a new niggle. Lahiru Thirimanne was helped off the field in the 11th over with what seemed like a hamstring strain. Dale Steyn, who spent much of South Africa’s summer on the sidelines, may sympathise with him.
After sitting out the last two matches, Steyn was back to lead South Africa’s attack. He found early movement, but strayed down the leg side in his first over and came under attack in his second. Dilshan brought out his signature scoop to send Steyn to the boundary before Chandimal hooked and drove with power. With Kyle Abbott doing a decent job at the other end, Faf du Plessis’ only choice was to take Steyn out of the attack.
He brought on Aaron Phangiso and at first, it seemed a strange decision. Dilshan would not be tied down by the left-arm spinner, as the batsman slog-swept and charged Phangiso. Chandimal aimed to do the same, but the stand-in Sri Lanka captain’s attempt failed when he played for turn to one that stayed straight and Phangiso snuck through the bat-pad gap and onto the stumps.
Phangiso’s next delivery did not turn either but Thirimanne, who has been in wretched form, was drawn into the drive and missed. In the space of two balls, Sri Lanka’s innings was derailed, South Africa were in control and Phangiso was on a hat-trick.
Having seen success through spin, South Africa continued with it and Tahir was brought on in the Powerplay. Dilshan and Milinda Siriwardana were forced to be more watchful. In frustration, Siriwardana tried to force a single off Phangiso but chanced the arm of du Plessis to his peril. South Africa dragged Sri Lanka back from a speedy start – after 45 runs came off the first five overs, only 32 came off the next five.
To strangle them further, Behardien was asked to bowl and his pace off the ball drew Shehan Jayasuriya into a uppish drive to gift du Plessis a catch in the covers. Behardien proved his shrewdness when he had Dilshan trapped lbw and Tahir followed up by bowling Chamara Kapugedera with a googly in a four-over period during which South Africa conceded just 14 runs.
Sri Lanka enjoyed some reprieve when Steyn returned but even not at his best, he had some joy. Steyn was doing his best to get the ball to stick in the pitch and when he did, Thisara Perera was drawn into a stroke early and offered a catch to cover. Sri Lanka were seven down and had yet to reach 100 with four overs left. Dasun Shanaka tried to accelerate, but he ran out of partners before the innings was up.
If Sri Lanka suspected they did not have enough runs, South Africa’s start, even against spin, would have confirmed that. Quinton de Kock threw his bat at two of the first three deliveries, bowled by Jayasuriya, and found the boundary both times. But his haste was short-lived. In the next over, de Kock wanted a single that Amla had no interest in, and was run out.
The early breakthrough gave Sri Lanka some hope and Chandimal played his hand early. Rangana Herath bowled the third over and Amla and du Plessis treated him with requisite respect, but where they could, they scored. Amla used his wrists to whip Herath off his toes and to the boundary, easing the pressure on du Plessis, who took his time to settle.
Three overs went by without a boundary before du Plessis swept Herath and then Vandersay to keep South Africa on track. South Africa’s slow-burn was only ignited when du Plessis was given out lbw off Lakmal and the batsman showed some irritation to indicate he thought the ball had met the toe-end of the bat. However, the Feroz Shah Kotla crowd did not mind seeing the end of him, as the wicket brought AB de Villiers to the crease.
“AB, AB,” resonated around the stadium, even though their favourite player operated largely in a supporting role. De Villiers was a spectator as Amla brought up 1000 T20I runs and his second fifty of the tournament, but there was still a bit for him to do. De Villiers struck a six off Shanaka before hitting the winning runs in similar style off Lakmal, with 2.2 overs to spare.