Hansie Cronje and South Africa's King Commission into match-fixing did not hang heavily on the minds of the country's cricketers when they departed for Sri Lanka on June 30, even though five of the nine players who testified at the inquiry were on the plane to Colombo. As soon as they arrived, however, many began to realise just how much emotion they had suppressed. Their former captain was everywhere and nowhere, his ghost haunting the senior players and confusing the new faces in the squad.
Shaun Pollock was diplomacy personified, accepting his responsibility as captain to speak honestly and answer questions whenever they were asked. At a packed news conference on the second day, he admitted there were many disillusioned cricket followers in South Africa whose trust and respect had to be regained. He promised that his new-look squad would never contemplate communication, let alone dealings, with bookmakers and that they would give "110 per cent effort" in every game they played.
It took three weeks at least for the players to settle, and to come to terms with the realisation that - for the first time in their careers - Cronje was not on tour. And would not be again. Jonty Rhodes admitted to looking for him at every practice during the first ten days, and while many were still smarting over his betrayal of them as a friend, they none the less missed him as both player and disciplinarian. The team stayed close to their hotel when they were not playing, and they were understandably reserved, waiting to see how they were regarded.
The tour - which after the Sri Lankan leg was to incorporate the world's first indoor one-day internationals, in Melbourne's new Colonial Stadium, followed by a triangular tournament with New Zealand and Pakistan in Singapore - was seen as a time for rebuilding the social structures of the squad, as well as the team on the field. Without Allan Donald, honouring his last contract with Warwickshire, there were few of the old guard alongside Pollock and vice-captain Mark Boucher. Herschelle Gibbs's last-minute removal from the tour party, as a result of his admissions to the King Commission, resulted in a place for Boeta Dippenaar, and there were opportunities for Andrew Hall, Neil McKenzie, David Terbrugge and Roger Telemachus to establish their credentials.
Without their best player of spin, Cronje, to counter the expected troop of spinners led by Muttiah Muralitharan, many expected Pollock's team to struggle in Sri Lanka. The squad duly assembled a week before departure in Durban to practise on deliberately under-prepared pitches. The topic of Cronje's demise was raised in team meetings, and a determination to put it behind them prevailed. When the time came, however, the team looked disorientated, and initially could not get to grips with a Sri Lankan side brimming with confidence. Pollock began his reign as Test captain with an innings defeat, Sri Lanka's first victory in six Tests between the two nations. That he and his team fought back to square the series spoke volumes for their character.
Sri Lanka won all three of their encounters in the one-day Singer Triangular Series that preceded the Tests, and South Africa's two wins over Pakistan, who had just beaten Sri Lanka 2-0 in a three-Test series, were a minor comfort. Muralitharan took five South African wickets in the one-day final; he claimed 13 more in the First Test at Galle, and finished the series with 26, equalling his own Sri Lankan record set in Pakistan five months earlier. Captain Sanath Jayasuriya and Mahela Jayawardene shared the glory of the innings win at Galle, with centuries that underpinned Sri Lanka's highest total against South Africa, and were the leading run-scorers in the series. But Lance Klusener was close behind. His daring unbeaten hundred in the Second Test at Kandy saved South Africa from a disastrous start and eventually enabled them to claim a tense seven-run win. In the final game at Colombo, he scored another 95 not out, but rain and determined play from both sides meant that honours finished even. Pollock flung himself into the task of leading the attack and was rewarded with 11 wickets in the series, while slow left-armer Nicky Boje concluded the trip with a career-best five for 62. The series ended with celebrations of Arjuna Ranatunga's 18-year Test career; he completed his 93rd and final game with 5,105 runs at 35.69.
Match reports for
Match reports for
Tour Match: Sri Lanka Board President's XI v South Africans at Moratuwa, Jul 4, 2000
Tour Match: Sri Lanka Board XI v South Africans at Colombo (PSS), Jul 16-17, 2000
Tour Match: Sri Lanka Board President's XI v South Africans at Moratuwa, Jul 26-27, 2000