The first tour of Sri Lanka by a South African team produced a satisfying result for the visitors. The series was decided in the Second Test, which they won by an innings and 208 runs. This was the biggest winning margin in South Africa's history and Sri Lanka's heaviest defeat. In view of the difficulties experienced in Sri Lanka by other visitors - Australia, New Zealand and England- in the preceding year, it provided further evidence that the South Africans were rapidly establishing themselves as a competent team at Test level.
The victory confirmed the belief of the South African captain, Kepler Wessels, that his team's strength lay in fast bowling, even in generally unhelpful circumstances. It came after South Africa had narrowly avoided defeat in the First Test at Moratuwa. There the tour selectors had been persuaded by a bare, seemingly under-prepared pitch to pick both their spin bowlers as well as all six of the specialist batsmen on tour. Although this left Allan Donald and Brett Schultz to carry the pace banner on their own, they took nine of the wickets in the first innings and always looked more likely to strike than the spinners, Pat Symcox and Clive Eksteen, both playing in their first Test. A remarkable unbeaten century by Jonty Rhodes, who had given no previous indication on tour that he could cope with the local spin bowlers, enabled South Africa to escape from a dire situation. After that, Brian McMillan and Richard Snell returned to give Wessels a four-pronged pace attack; 40-year-old Jimmy Cook was the batsman who made way, and a long-awaited Test career seemed to be over after just three matches.
The South Africans, who had attended two three-day training camps in Durban, the hottest and most humid of South Africa's cities, coped well with the Sri Lankan climate as well as the slow pitches. Discipline was the watchword in the batting, while the pace of Schultz and Donald was always a little too much for the Sri Lankans. They extracted enough bounce to make batting uncomfortable and Schultz, on his first tour, was easily the most impressive bowler in the series. A strongly-built left-armer who bowled with palpable aggression, he took 20 wickets at 16.30 in three Tests. All South Africa's top-order batsmen performed satisfactorily, with Rhodes and Daryll Cullinan scoring maiden Test centuries and Hansie Cronje his second. Both openers, Wessels and Andrew Hudson, reached the nineties and they shared two century opening partnerships. South Africa's catching was the only disappointment: more than a dozen chances were spilled during the series.
The Sri Lankan batting was generally disappointing, although their two most experienced players. Arjuna Ranatunga and Aravinda de Silva, were consistent. After a promising match in Moratuwa, Hashan Tillekeratne struggled against the fast bowlers. The opening batsmen, Roshan Mahanama and Chandika Hathurusinghe, were usually overwhelmed by Schultz and Donald. But Ranatunga said it was unlikely that any other batsmen in the country would cope better. On the limited evidence of two warm-up matches, he may well have been correct. If the Board XIs assembled for these games were an indication of the next level of Sri Lankan talent, there is not a great deal of depth.
The off-spinner, Muttiah Muralitharan, was the only bowler who regularly troubled the South African batsmen. He turned the ball prodigiously although, lacking variation, he seldom threatened to run through the batting order. With the South Africans making liberal use of their pads, there were long periods of stalemate when he was bowling. But the non-selection of Jayananda Warnaweera, whose action had been the subject of some controversy, left him without a partner of similar menace. The new-ball bowlers, Pramodya Wickremasinghe and Champaka Ramanayake, lacked real pace. For a batsman of such panache, Ranatunga proved surprisingly cautious as a captain, particularly in the Third Test when he and De Silva batted exceedingly slowly even though a more aggressive approach might have saved the series.
For the first time in Sri Lanka, an independent umpire, Brian Aldridge of New Zealand, stood in the Tests. Ironically, he made more contentious decisions than the home officials. Despite agreement in principle before the tour, video replays were not used; the Sri Lankan board decided that technical facilities were not good enough. Crowds were disappointing at the Tests - perhaps because the board allowed live TV coverage - but for the limited-overs internationals, shown live during the first innings and after a time-lag in the second, the grounds were packed.
K. C. Wessels (Eastern Province) (Captain), W. J. Cronje (Orange Free State) (vice-captain), S. J. Cook (Transvaal), D. J. Cullinan (Transvaal), P. S. De Villiers (Northern Transvaal), A. A. Donald (Orange Free State), C. E. Eksteen (Transvaal), A. C. Hudson (Natal), B. M. McMillan (Western Province), S. J. Palframan (Border), J. N. Rhodes (Natal), D. J. Richardson (Eastern Province), B. N. Schultz (Eastern Province), R. P. Snell (Transvaal), P. L. Symcox (Natal).
Tour manager: C. Docrat.
Cricket manager: M. J. Procter.
Test matches - Played 3: Won 1, Drawn 2.
First-class matches - Played 5: Won 2, Drawn 3.
Wins - Sri Lanka, Sri Lankan Board XI.
Draws - Sri Lanka (2), Sri Lankan Board president's XI.
One-day internationals - Played 3: Won 1, Lost 1, No result 1.
Match reports for