ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 / Features

South Africa's Sri Lanka-phobia

Since 2000, South Africa have a 1-12 win-loss record versus Sri Lanka in Sri Lanka; no team other than Bangladesh have done as badly

S Rajesh

August 2, 2013

Comments: 12 | Text size: A | A

Jacques Kallis prepares to play a stroke, South Africa v Sri Lanka, 2nd ODI, East London, January 14, 2012
In 16 ODIs that South Africa have played against Sri Lanka in Sri Lanka, they've managed only one century - 101 by Jacques Kallis in 2004 © AFP

South Africa are the best Test side in the world by some distance, but their ODI fortunes haven't been as favourable recently. In 2013, they've won only seven out of 18 ODIs, and their win-loss ratio of 0.70 is seventh out of nine teams who've played at least ten ODIs this year - only West Indies and Zimbabwe have done worse. South Africa are currently ranked fifth in ODIs, but they didn't even play like the fifth-best team in the recently concluded series against Sri Lanka, who are only ranked one place above them.

As much as the 4-1 series verdict, it was the margin of defeat in most of those matches which would have disappointed South African supporters. Two of them were among their heaviest in terms of runs - the 180-run loss at the Premadasa Stadium is their second-largest margin of defeat, while the 128-run margin at the same ground is the seventh-biggest. It wasn't much better when they batted first either, as they lost in Pallekele by eight wickets with 36 balls to spare. Admittedly, South Africa were missing Dale Steyn and Jacques Kallis, and weren't helped by Hashim Amla's injury, but even so the gulf between the two sides was surprisingly huge.

These defeats continued South Africa's shocking run against Sri Lanka in Sri Lanka: in 16 ODIs they've won two and lost 13; since 2000, that record is even more appalling - one win and 12 defeats in 13 matches. It's easily their worst record against a team on their home turf; England is the next-poorest, where they've won three and lost ten. In Sri Lanka, no team has done worse against them since 2000: the only team to have done as badly is Bangladesh. Against other teams in Sri Lanka, though, South Africa haven't done badly, winning four out of five, including two against Pakistan.

For a team which boasts such quality in both batting and bowling, their stats in Sri Lanka are pretty mediocre - with the bat they've averaged less than 23 per dismissal, and with the ball they've conceded more than 40 per wicket. Most of the other teams from outside the subcontinent have done much better: Australia, in fact, have the best win percentage among all teams, while England have won three in ten and West Indies two in eight. The only team other than Australia to have won more than they've lost is India, with 17 wins and 15 defeats. (They've also played, by far, the most matches against Sri Lanka in Sri Lanka.)

Visiting teams in ODIs v Sri Lanka in Sri Lanka since 2000
Team Matches Won/ lost Ratio Bat ave Run rate Bowl ave Econ rate
Australia 12 6/ 5 1.20 31.24 4.65 24.82 4.46
India 35 17/ 15 1.13 30.26 4.96 30.77 5.05
Pakistan 21 7/ 12 0.58 25.77 4.45 27.78 4.50
England 10 3/ 7 0.42 19.17 3.68 32.98 4.56
West Indies 8 2/ 5 0.40 27.46 4.63 34.10 4.91
New Zealand 13 1/ 10 0.10 20.71 4.08 31.69 4.59
South Africa 13 1/ 12 0.08 22.65 4.49 40.26 5.24
Bangladesh 14 1/ 12 0.08 19.55 4.11 42.98 5.46

South Africa's numbers against Sri Lanka in Sri Lanka are also surprising because they haven't done so badly against other teams in the subcontinent. Against India they have a respectable 6-7 record in 13 games, while against Pakistan they have a 10-8 advantage (6-4 in Pakistan and 4-4 in the UAE).

As the table below shows, the difference between South Africa's stats in India and Sri Lanka is largely their batting. In India they've averaged more than 41, and scored at almost five-and-a-half per over; in Sri Lanka the average drops by almost half, and the scoring rate by about a run per over.

South Africa v each subcontinent team in that country in ODIs since 2000*
Against Matches Won/ lost Ratio Bat ave Econ rate Bowl ave Econ rate
Bangladesh 6 6/ 0 - 58.47 4.99 15.85 3.57
Pakistan 18 10/ 8 1.25 34.06 4.99 27.14 4.74
India 13 6/ 7 0.85 41.39 5.45 36.29 5.58
Sri Lanka 13 1/ 12 0.08 22.65 4.49 40.26 5.24
* The stats against Pakistan includes matches played in the UAE

Breaking up the numbers further into South Africa's batting stats against pace and spin in Asia, it's clear that while they've struggled against both in Sri Lanka, they've played spin much worse there than in any other country. Pakistan have a pretty potent spin attack too, but against them, in Pakistan and in the UAE, South Africa's batsmen have averaged 45.39 runs per dismissal; in Sri Lanka, it drops to half that number. Only Bangladesh and New Zealand have poorer averages against spin in Sri Lanka. Against pace, though, South Africa's average of 28.84 is among the better ones - only India and West Indies have averaged more.

South Africa versus pace and spin against each team in the subcontinent*
Team Pace-wkts Average Econ rate Spin-wkts Average Econ rate
Sri Lanka 33 28.84 4.81 73 22.43 4.17
Pakistan 71 31.94 5.09 38 45.39 4.55
India 30 53.90 6.12 46 37.76 4.81
Bangladesh 6 90.00 5.74 15 51.40 4.40
* Against each opposition in that country, eg against India in India. For Pakistan, matches played in the UAE also included
SL spinners and seamers v each opposition at home since 2000
Opposition Spinners-wkts Average Econ rate Seamers-wkts Average Econ rate
Bangladesh 43 21.86 3.88 64 19.68 4.00
New Zealand 41 22.02 3.64 42 22.61 4.16
South Africa 73 22.43 4.17 33 28.84 4.81
England 30 24.56 3.50 51 17.05 3.66
West Indies 34 29.32 4.59 22 34.59 4.37
Pakistan 53 29.75 4.25 89 28.28 4.39
India 77 37.00 4.55 143 30.43 5.05
Australia 35 41.14 4.42 30 26.03 4.74

Four of Sri Lanka's most successful spinners at home against South Africa during this period have been Upul Chandana, Tillakaratne Dilshan, Ajantha Mendis and Rangana Herath. Against the other top teams at home, these four spinners have had modest success, with only Mendis averaging less than 35.

Sri Lankan spinners at home, versus South Africa and other teams
  Against South Africa Against other teams*
Bowler Wickets Average Econ rate Wickets Average Econ rate
Upul Chandana 16 18.31 4.56 19 38.42 4.57
Tillakaratne Dilshan 14 25.71 4.63 14 56.35 4.92
Ajantha Mendis 10 12.20 4.25 36 26.05 4.47
Rangana Herath 9 19.55 3.60 14 43.78 4.39
* Against Australia, England, India, New Zealand, Pakistan, West Indies

Not surprisingly, the stats for South Africa's batsmen in Sri Lanka make for sorry reading, and also indicates how much they missed Kallis. He is the only one to have scored a century there against Sri Lanka during this period, and has topped 50 four times in eight innings. Most of the others - from Herschelle Gibbs and Graeme Smith to AB de Villiers and Jacques Rudolph - haven't solved the mystery of scoring ODI runs in Sri Lanka.

Some of SA's top-order batsmen v Sri Lanka in Sri Lanka since 2000
Batsman Innings Runs Average Strike rate 100s/ 50s
Jacques Kallis 8 335 47.85 63.20 1/ 3
JP Duminy 10 194 19.40 70.80 0/ 1
Graeme Smith 5 139 27.80 68.81 0/ 0
Gary Kirsten 3 138 46.00 72.63 0/ 2
AB de Villiers 5 137 27.40 81.54 0/ 1
David Miller 5 122 40.67 91.72 0/ 1
Jacques Rudolph 5 116 23.20 69.87 0/ 0
Hashim Amla 2 95 47.50 95.95 0/ 1
Herschelle Gibbs 5 89 17.80 59.73 0/ 0

With their batsmen faring so badly in Sri Lanka, South Africa's only hope would be for their bowlers to lift their game and cover for the batting deficiencies, but that hasn't happened either. As the table below shows, South Africa's spinners have been completely ineffective, averaging 63.80 runs per wicket, while the fast bowlers have averaged almost 39 and conceded more than five per over. That's similar to their bowling stats in India, but there the batsmen have been prolific, allowing the bowlers to get away with those numbers. With the batting being significantly less effective in Sri Lanka, South Africa's results have nosedived, placing them on par with Bangladesh. It's a comparison they won't particularly enjoy.

South Africa's seamers and spinners v subcontinent teams in overseas ODIs*
Opposition Pace-wkts Average Econ rate Spin-wkts Average Econ rate
Bangladesh 40 12.70 3.23 16 26.50 3.89
Pakistan 118 28.00 4.62 18 43.50 4.70
India 65 36.41 5.41 16 63.12 5.62
Sri Lanka 55 38.84 5.14 15 63.80 4.97
* Against each opposition in that country, eg against India in India. For Pakistan, matches played in the UAE also included

S Rajesh is stats editor of ESPNcricinfo. Follow him on Twitter

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Comments: 12 
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Posted by Dummy4 on (August 7, 2013, 15:29 GMT)

Not sure what the fuss is about -we always perform poorly on the sub-continent especially against good spinners. Its been an achiles heel of SA cricket for decades. Why are we still surprised by the outcome?

Posted by Janaka on (August 2, 2013, 12:20 GMT)

South Africans are very talented. I like to see them fighting. They never give up. They are like Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Australia. I'm not saying they are the best, but they are so unpredictable, they fight back really well when things go. For instance Mahela is good in winning low scoring games. SA has the same quality. But I want Sri Lanka to win this because it's my country. I love SA too. But country always comes first.

Posted by suresh kumar on (August 2, 2013, 10:26 GMT)

if there was a test series them, it would tests RSA's no1 status in test-arena. (I think would win)

Posted by Dummy4 on (August 2, 2013, 8:41 GMT)

SamRoy really?, take another look. Gqamane, Viljeon, Hendricks just to name a few,there is plenty of talent around.

Posted by Herath on (August 2, 2013, 8:34 GMT)

nlambda, yes its true that India has done well against SL even in SL during the past few years, but that does not mean that India has done well against SL when Murali, Vass & Jayasuriya were at their peak (1996-2008).. India's record in SL during 1996-2008 was quite dismal reading 14-6 in favor of SL.

Posted by Prasanna on (August 2, 2013, 8:17 GMT)

"South Africa are the best Test side in the world by some distance" - it ends there. Who cares about how they fares in the limited-overs games. Test cricket is the truest form of the game and all it matters is how well SA has done with that. Period. SA fans can really feel proud about what their test team has achieved over a period-of time, something that even us Aussies haven't done - not losing an away series for a long period of 6 years. And we would kill to be in that position, given where we currently are. So forget it and enjoy your Test supremacy, a well-deserved one .

Posted by Kathy on (August 2, 2013, 7:32 GMT)

What I find puzzling about this last ODI series is why the SA bowlers bowled so many wides. Is it because they felt under pressure? It's not as if the can't do better ... we've seen how tight they can be in Tests. But put them in an ODI and suddenly the ball gets sprays around all over the pitch.

Posted by Dummy4 on (August 2, 2013, 7:05 GMT)

Sri lankas ODI record is SA 5/12 not a good one neutral venues Sri lanka 5 South Africa 4.

Posted by sam on (August 2, 2013, 6:11 GMT)

If you look at South Africa, the reserve talent in bowling is just not there. Apart from Steyn, Philander and Morkel, only De Lange is a bowler who is threatening but he is constantly injured. Tsotsobe works only if there is extra bounce in the wicket. McLaren dishes upa rubbish ball every over. No good spinners. Abbott might have taken a 10-wicket haul in his first test but he wasn't all that good just the Pakistani batsman were miserable. He was found out in the ODIs.

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S Rajesh Stats editor Every week the Numbers Game takes a look at the story behind the stats, with an original slant on facts and figures. The column is edited by S Rajesh, ESPNcricinfo's stats editor in Bangalore. He did an MBA in marketing, and then worked for a year in advertising, before deciding to chuck it in favour of a job which would combine the pleasures of watching cricket and writing about it. The intense office cricket matches were an added bonus.

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