Two ground records were broken at the Gabba in the past eight days but today there were only 9388 spectators, a return expected for a healthy Queensland ING Cup match. VB Series games between the touring teams are a recipe enjoyed by expats, genuine enthusiasts and corporate guests who couldn't get tickets for Australia. It is a shame because despite the easy 94-run Sri Lankan victory, the series is alive.
Whittling three teams into two over a dozen games is an unnecessarily drawn out task that can spike even the most effervescent enthusiasm, especially when one side lags behind the others. Sri Lanka, the No. 7-ranked team behind the world's two best outfits, looked like being the turtle after their 116-run loss against Australia in the opening fixture last week, but they shook off a disastrous streak of only two wins in the past 12 matches.
South Africa were as damaged as their injured list, which Jacques Kallis added to before the match with a reoccurrence of the elbow problem that has hindered him throughout the tour. This competition has a month to run and their preparations for the home Test and ODI series against Australia seem to take hits every day. Kallis and Charl Langeveldt could be flying home by the end of the week and Andre Nel and Makhaya Ntini have already gone. Graeme Smith and Mickey Arthur must already be wishing the tournament had not reverted to eight preliminary matches for each team instead of last summer's more manageable six.
Cricket support in Australia has boomed over the past week with the Twenty20 international crowd of 38,894 setting a new mark at the Gabba that was beaten by 980 on Sunday when South Africa defeated the host team by five wickets. The momentum was not carried today as the eastern section of the stadium was shut off, and most of the atmosphere was created by an over-achieving section of Sri Lankans.
Their Sinhalese chants echoed through the stadium and their favourite call, when loosely translated was "you can't compete with us". Tonight they were right. They were also polite enough not to cry "no-ball" when Johan Botha, who has been reported for a suspect action, was brought on. Instead they saved their loudest cheering for Kumar Sangakkara and Jehan Mubarak as they pounded half-centuries and the horrible mix-ups of Herschelle Gibbs and Jacques Rudolph.
Sri Lanka's output from their fresh-looking batting line-up improved through Sangakkara's special 88, a combination of dancing footwork and purposeful hitting, and Mubarak's career-best 61, which was helped by more appalling South African catching. Performing a useful impersonation of Sanath Jayasuriya with his left-handed swinging, Mubarak had three lives and the chances to Johan Botha and Andrew Hall were comfortable by international standards.
The only thing worse than South Africa's sloppiness in the field was the running between wickets when Jacques Rudolph was compiling his 63-ball 53. Twice both batsmen were stranded at the same end after the sort of communication confusion best saved for global businesses. Camped safely for the first run-out that resulted in a furious Gibbs, Rudolph became the second victim in conjunction with Ashwell Prince and his departure at 4 for 93 in the 21st over signalled the end.
Both Sri Lankan fixtures have been one-sided but the series is currently competitive with each team winning one of their first two games. Whether it stays that way over the next month will depend on South Africa's injury crisis and the productiveness of the willing Sri Lankans.