Dilshan powers Sri Lanka to consolation win
Sri Lanka 164 for 4 (Dilshan 74*, Wiese 2-24) beat South Africa 163 for 3 (du Plessis 85, Duminy 51*) by 6 wickets
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
Sri Lanka's batsmen found fluency for the first time in the Twenty20 series, as the hosts rode a furious start and a fast finish to a consolatory six-wicket win in Hambantota. Tillakaratne Dilshan's unbeaten 51-ball 74 was both their anchor and primary propeller, with Mahela Jayawardene and Thisara Perera contributing with cameos to help haul in a stiff target of 164, with 11 balls to spare.
Jayawardene and Dilshan have repeatedly been Sri Lanka's most dynamic opening combination, and South Africa's large total was sufficient reason to reunite the two batsmen, displacing Kusal Perera to No. 3. Jayawardene's breezy brilliance matched Dilshan's daring in the Powerplay, and when they were separated in the sixth over, Sri Lanka were traveling at more than 11 runs an over. Yet, they stumbled in the middle once more, and before Thisara launched a Wayne Parnell over for 21, their fate had become uncertain.
Dilshan's first scoring shot foreshadowed the opener's blitz, as he walloped a Lonwabo Tsotsobe slower ball over square leg for six in the first over, before playing the Dilscoop to successive balls, to make 14 in the over. Jayawardene's salvo was more stylish, but no less explosive. Morne Morkel was not spared either as fours came of his first three deliveries - all from Jayawardene's unhurried blade. Jayawardene fell to Parnell in the sixth over, but despite his disappointment, Sri Lanka required just under seven an over with nine wickets left, thanks to his 16-ball 33.
Dilshan made do with stuttering partners in the middle overs; Kusal Perera's innings was his briefest in a poor series for him, Dinesh Chandimal fell trying to accelerate after having progressed slowly to 14 and Angelo Mathews was dismissed for 14, after having promised a solid contribution. Although Thisara scored at only a run-a-ball in his first five deliveries, his onslaught in the 18th over secured the match for Sri Lanka. Parnell attempted to bowl full and wide, but Thisara reached out and struck three fours and a six in the arc between extra cover and long-on. At the beginning of that over, Sri Lanka needed 27 off 18, and by the end, only one blow was needed to complete the win. Dilshan provided it in style, sweeping Morkel high over square leg, first ball of the next over.
Though Hambantota's surface has had a reputation for favouring fast bowlers, the spinners from both teams bowled best in the match, with only David Wiese maintaining an acceptable run rate from among the seam bowlers. Tsotsobe conceded 49 from his four, in addition to shelling a simple catch and committing two misfields, and Morkel and Parnell didn't do much better, going for over 10 and 12 an over respectively.
Earlier, a 112-run third-wicket stand between Faf du Plessis and JP Duminy had propelled South Africa to a commanding score, after the pair had exploited poor bowling from Sri Lanka's pacers, who were without their injured spearhead Lasith Malinga. Their partnership, which helped South Africa recover from a first-ball wicket, was the highest against Sri Lanka for any wicket.
Du Plessis' 85 off 65 was his highest score in the T20 series, but he was by some distance the less convincing of the two batsman. Ajantha Mendis had been among his chief tormentors in the ODI series, and should have had him out for 24, had the umpire not mistakenly ruled that the ball hit glove before striking the batsman on the thigh, in front of the stumps. Then on 56, Lahiru Thirimanne failed to grasp a simple chance at deep midwicket - also off Mendis - and du Plessis did not fall until the final over of the innings.
Duminy's progress was both smoother and quicker than his captain's, as he embellished his status as South Africa's best batsman of the tour with his second fifty of the series. Placement and hard running gave energy to his innings, and the big shots were largely reserved for the balls that deserved punishment. An overpitched slower ball from Suranga Lakmal was hoisted over the straight boundary in the 15th over, before Nuwan Kulasekara was launched slightly squarer when he delivered a knee-length full toss.
But their record, and that of the Hambantota stadium - which has allowed only one chasing victory in six previous matches - did not help South Africa, and having avoided a whitewash, Sri Lanka will hold on to their top ranking in T20s.
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. He tweets here