Lasith Malinga versus David Miller. It was supposed to be the yorker versus the big hit. It was supposed to be the cracking finish. But the pressure resulted in miscommunication and again, South Africa ended up on the wrong side of a chase.
With 15 runs needed off the final over and a finisher at the crease, the batting side is always in with a chance, even if that is narrowed by the presence of Malinga. South Africa, however, did not give themselves an opportunity to capitalise. Twin run-outs off the first two balls of the final over, including that of Miller's, left the tail-enders with too much to do against a team who has only lost defending a score of 160-plus twice in the past.
The real damage had been done four overs before when Albie Morkel threatened to take the game away with a couple of assertive sixes. The boom quickly turned to bust. Dinesh Chandimal saw Morkel's plan and moved himself to wide long-on, just square of where the two previous sixes had gone. Ajantha Mendis bowled a low full toss, the kind of delivery Morkel would have hit for six many times before but he didn't get enough on it. Chandimal took the catch inches inside and seemed to know South Africa's fate was sealed.
Sri Lanka appeared the more assertive side from the get-go even though South Africa were buoyed by Dale Steyn's return to full fitness. Their pace spearhead started off with a Pandora's box of an over. He went too full to Kusal Perera who took two fours and a six off him and gave himself two extra deliveries to bowl courtesy a pair of wides. The last of them uprooted Tillakaratne Dilshan's off stump.
Kusal was less ambitious against Lonwabo Tsostobe, who used the slower ball well, but still managed to play the pick-up shot against both Tsotsobe and Morne Morkel. With a healthy covering of grass on the pitch, Morne found some extra bounce to account for Mahela Jayawardene, who was caught off a splice to mid-on. Despite the two wickets in the first six overs, Kusal's big-hitting took Sri Lanka to 51 for 2 at the end of the power-play.
AB De Villiers, captaining in place of the injured Faf du Plessis, introduced spin immediately after the fielding restrictions. JP Duminy started with some control but South Africa's fourth seamer, Albie was guilty of bowling too full. Kusal's fifty came up off 29 balls, the second fastest half-century scored against South Africa, with a single behind square on the leg side.
It was only when Imran Tahir came on that the squeeze was on. Sri Lanka's batsmen found him tricky to pick. Both Kusal and Kumar Sangakkara were foxed by the googly and the run-rate slowed. South Africa gave only 37 runs in the five-over period between 10 and 15 to peg Sri Lanka back.
Angelo Mathews tried to be the architect of a last five-over burst and deposited Tahir over long-on. Chandimal was stumped when he attempted the same, to give Tahir his best returns in T20 cricket of 3 for 26. Mathews batted into the last over and Sri Lanka collected 48 from the final five to set South Africa a challenging total.
Quinton de Kock gave South Africa a solid start when he guided them to 31 in the first three overs. He did not have to deal with Malinga in the opening exchanges, but when he did, de Kock's stumps were broken by a crunching yorker.
South Africa stuck to the strategy of holding de Villiers back and sent JP Duminy at No.3. Duminy's intent to give himself some time bore fruit in the ninth over. Thisara Perera was driven down the ground, slammed over long-on and then scooped for six. Ajantha Mendis was taken for 12 runs in the next over.
Duminy had Hashim Amla for company for 6.2 overs and put on fifty runs to give South Africa stability if not speed, which could come when Amla, the only batsman to have a strike-rate below 100, hit the ball straight to short cover. De Villiers was under some pressure but dealt with it well against both Mendis and Malinga. Mathews had the measure of him when he held back both the pace and the length to an advancing de Villiers, who top-edged.
With de Villiers gone, Duminy should have anchored the chase and left the slogging to Miller but could not hold back. He swept Senanayake to cow corner and South Africa's slide had begun. Despite the big-hitters at their disposal they lost six wickets for 42 runs and the chase unraveled to leave the margin looking closer than it actually was.