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South Africa vs Sri Lanka in 2020-21

A review of South Africa vs Sri Lanka, 2020-21

Lungani Zama
It was a difficult first day as Test captain for Quinton de Kock  •  AFP via Getty Images

It was a difficult first day as Test captain for Quinton de Kock  •  AFP via Getty Images

Test matches (2): South Africa 2 (120pts), Sri Lanka 0 (0pts)
Two years previously, in 2018-19, Sri Lanka had pulled off a stunning heist in South Africa, winning by one wicket at Durban after an incredible innings from Kusal Perera, and completing the job against shocked opponents at Port Elizabeth. The South Africans, after a miserable 2019 - a poor World Cup, followed by Test defeats in India and at home by England - and with a dysfunctional administration placed in the hands of an interim committee, could not afford another setback.
These two Tests were staged on the country's quickest and bounciest tracks, at Centurion and Johannesburg, and the home side recorded comfortable victories. They were helped by a crop of injuries among the tourists, who were already without influential batsman Angelo Mathews; he had injured a hamstring during the T20 Lanka Premier League, which finished three days before the team flew off to their biosecure bubble in Pretoria.
And, as seamers fell like flies, Sri Lanka's coach Mickey Arthur admitted the LPL had been a hindrance: "In hindsight, we should have tried to preserve a lot of our main players, but that would have devalued the competition. If I had my time again, we probably would have pulled some of our quicks out of it." Arthur also suggested the ICC would, in these exceptional times, have to look at their rules about substitutions: "The rigours of the workload are just going to be too much, with coronavirus around." Somehow, he retained a sense of humour: "Luckily we brought 21 players, otherwise it would be batting coach Grant Flower at No. 3 and me at No. 4 in the next Test."
Suranga Lakmal and Oshada Fernando were injured warming up for the First Test, during which seamers Lahiru Kumara, Kasun Rajitha and Dasun Shanaka all picked up knocks; Dhananjaya de Silva badly pulled a thigh muscle, and had to abandon a delightful innings of 79 in an eventual total of 396. "When we started, we had a balanced attack," said Dimuth Karunaratne, the embattled captain. "But in the first innings, we lost that. We had been in a position where we could even have dominated the game."
South Africa had no such worries, their main concern being whether to hurry Kagiso Rabada back after injury; victory in the First Test, allied to a promising display by newcomer Lutho Sipamla, meant he was not risked. After giving up the captaincy, Faf du Plessis made 199 to set up the Centurion win, and Dean Elgar kept the pressure on Sri Lanka's reworked attack at the Wanderers. It meant Quinton de Kock started his stint as Test captain - he had been installed on a temporary basis, as the selectors were worried about his workload - with a 2-0 victory. "I am sure a leader will pop up somewhere," he said. "I am happy just doing the rest of the summer, but if needs be that I go a little bit longer, then so be it." De Kock said the demands of cricket during Covid-19 were huge: "Bubbles just make tours longer because of the quarantine period. It's very unsettling. I don't know how long it can last."
Victory at least relieved some of the pressure on Cricket South Africa's beleaguered board. After the government installed an interim committee, there had been a possibility the ICC would sanction CSA for political interference in their administrative affairs. At the same time, the various Covid cancellations - including the mid-tour abandonment by England's white-ball team shortly before this series - meant money was running out, because of a lack of sponsors and broadcast deals. There was also general surprise that the national team did not follow many others in taking a knee in support of the Black Lives Matter movement; given South Africa's chequered history, it stuck out like a sore thumb. The players' decision "to continue to work together in our personal, team and public spaces to dismantle racism" did not silence the critics, though they did raise their fists in a Black Power salute at the start of the First Test.