Innings Sri Lanka 300 for 9 (Avishka 118, Asalanka 72, Maharaj 2-30, Rabada 2-66) vs South Africa
Avishka Fernando‘s third ODI century led the way for Sri Lanka as they reached their highest total in the format this year and set South Africa a daunting target of 301 in their series opener. On a slow surface with decent bounce and plenty of turn, Fernando and Charith Asalanka, playing in his sixth ODI, shared in a 97-run fourth-wicket stand, scoring at a rate of 8.19 an over, to build on a solid start and set Sri Lanka up for a strong finish.
Fernando became the sixth Sri Lankan to score an ODI century against South Africa after Marvan Atapattu, Tillakaratne Dilshan, Kumar Sangakkara (all twice), Asela Gunaratne and Upul Tharanga. He was comfortable on the back foot against the South African seamers, who insisted on holding their lengths back, took on the opposition’s attacking spinner, Tabraiz Shamsi, and paced his innings well. His first fifty took 75 balls and the next fifty just 31. When Fernando was dismissed, Asalanka took over and brought up his second ODI fifty, a career-best 72, to lead Sri Lanka’s late charge. They scored 90 runs off the last ten overs to go into the break with the momentum on their side.
South Africa would want to consider the composition of their attack, and their approach to these conditions. They opted for only five frontline bowlers and relied on Aiden Markram’s part-time offspin for six overs. Their quicks, Kagiso Rabada and Anrich Nortje, were too short, the allrounder, Andile Phehlukwayo lacked control, and Shamsi was inconsistent. Keshav Maharaj, though, was outstanding. He produced his most economical return in ODI cricket and became the only South African spinner bar Imran Tahir to concede less than 30 runs in a ten-over spell in almost a decade.
Rababa and Nortje started in pedestrian style and conceded 41 runs in the first six overs. Both Fernando and Minod Bhanuka found boundaries off short balls and ran well between wickets, on a ground with a big outfield. The runs dried up with the introduction of Maharaj in the seventh over, and Markram in the tenth. The pair bowled eight overs in tandem and gave away only 25 runs. Crucially, they also took two wickets. Bhanuka was bowled by a Markram arm ball as he missed with a slog sweep and, four balls later, Bhanuka Rajapaksa became the only Sri Lankan batter to fail on the day, when he holed out to deep mid-wicket off Maharaj. Sri Lanka were 58 for 2 in the 13th over but South Africa were unable to keep the pressure on.
Phehlukwayo gave away the first boundary in more than 50 balls when he angled his first delivery down leg and Dhananjaya de Silva helped it to fine leg for four. de Silva lived dangerously thereafter, hitting Shamsi just over mid-off, where he evaded Phehlukwayo’s outstretched hand, and was dropped on 30, when he offered a return catch to Shamsi, as the rain came down. A 25-minute delay gave de Silva, and South Africa, time to regroup, though it did not seem to do either much good. The batter was dropped again, on 33, when he got a thick edge off a late cut against Maharaj, but Heinrich Klaasen could not hold on to a low chance. de Silva was eventually stumped by Klaasen after reaching out to sweep Maharaj with his back foot just outside the crease.
By that point, Fernando had brought up his half-century with a single to midwicket and the time was right for the innings to get some impetus. Asalanka provided it. He took on the spinners and collected 18 from the first 16 balls he faced, before Fernando freed his arms to hit a hard length Rabada delivery over deep backward square for the first six of the innings. When Rabada tried the legcutter, Fernando whipped it off his hips for four, and when Phehukwayo took pace off the ball, he drove him uppishly through extra cover. He reached his century with a single off Phehlukwayo, then plundered 13 off a Nortje over and seemed set to see Sri Lanka to the close, but was done by a Shamsi wrong ‘un that he popped up to point.
The dismissal of his senior partner did nothing to slow Asalanka down. He reached a 51-ball half-century with two runs off Nortje and built on it as South Africa lost their way towards the end. Nortje’s final over cost 15 runs as he finished with none for 69 and Rabada gave away six extras in his last two overs to help Sri Lanka reach 300 and set South Africa’s batters a big task.
History is not on South Africa’s side. They have only successfully chased a total of 270-plus once out of the last nine times they have been set such a target, and that was at home against Australia in March 2020. There have only been two successful chases over 300 in an ODI in Sri Lanka and the highest total successfully chased in a day-night game in the country is 288.