Tour review

Sri Lanka v South Africa, 2013

Rex Clementine

Angelo Mathews with the series trophy, Sri Lanka v South Africa, 5th ODI, Colombo, July 31, 2013
Sri Lanka beat South Africa to claim the ODI series 4-1 © AFP
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One-day internationals (5): Sri Lanka 4, South Africa 1 Twenty20 internationals (3): Sri Lanka 1, South Africa 2

South Africa arrived for their first tour of Sri Lanka in seven years to find the home board under fire - and themselves at the centre of the fuss. Back in October 2012, Cricket South Africa had acceded to a request by their Sri Lankan counterparts to postpone the three scheduled Tests from this tour until mid-2015, in order to free up space for the Sri Lanka Premier League and the national team's participation in a triangular series in the Caribbean. But when the SLPL was cancelled with weeks to go, Sri Lanka Cricket were berated for their priorities.

CSA said they had agreed to defer the Tests so their players could have more time to recover from the Champions Trophy in England in June. Kumar Sangakkara, however, felt it was a missed opportunity for Sri Lanka to improve their lowly position of No. 7, even against the world's best Test side. "The South Africans don't like these conditions much," he said. His captain, Angelo Mathews, said he was "bitterly disappointed", while former skipper Arjuna Ranatunga called the cancellation "a crime". The blame, though, belonged with the Sri Lankans.

Sangakkara's hunch seemed prescient when South Africa collapsed to a 4-1 defeat in the one-day series - their worst result since losing 4-0 in England in 2008. There was some mitigation. J-P. Duminy and Robin Peterson were the only squad members who had previously played a one-day international in Sri Lanka. Graeme Smith had just undergone ankle surgery, while Dale Steyn and Jacques Kallis were rested. And it showed, as the South Africans struggled with the heat, humidity and slow pitches.

Hashim Amla did tour, but missed the first one-dayer with a stiff neck, couldn't bat in the second after he injured his groin, and was forced out of the third. The opening positions rotated between Colin Ingram, Alviro Petersen, Peterson, Quinton de Kock and Amla, but none could muster a stand above 35. South Africa's two left-arm spinners, Peterson and Aaron Phangiso, were swatted away with ease by mainly left-handed batsmen. By the end, South Africa's record against Sri Lanka away stood at two wins from 15 completed matches.

Sangakkara savaged the bowling, racking up 372 runs - the most by a Sri Lankan in a bilateral series. Ajantha Mendis, omitted until the third match, took ten cheap wickets, exploiting South African uncertainty against quality spin. Mathews also sat out the first two games as he served a suspension for his team's slow over-rate in the tri-series final earlier in the month. He inherited a 2-0 lead from Dinesh Chandimal, who at 23 years and 244 days was younger than Ranatunga had been when he first captained Sri Lanka.

South Africa shook up their bowling attack for the Twenty20 series, and won it, although Sri Lanka's successful run-chase in the final game allowed them to hold on to their No. 1 ranking. Faf du Plessis and A. B. de Villiers both endured torrid tours with the bat, but du Plessis's captaincy in the Twenty20s, where he took over from de Villiers, brought a new energy to the side - and many believed he emerged the stronger leader.

Match reports for

Tour Match: Sri Lanka Cricket Board President's XI v South Africans at Colombo (Colts), Jul 17, 2013

1st ODI: Sri Lanka v South Africa at Colombo (RPS), Jul 20, 2013

2nd ODI: Sri Lanka v South Africa at Colombo (RPS), Jul 23, 2013

3rd ODI: Sri Lanka v South Africa at Pallekele, Jul 26, 2013

4th ODI: Sri Lanka v South Africa at Pallekele, Jul 28, 2013

5th ODI: Sri Lanka v South Africa at Colombo (RPS), Jul 31, 2013

1st T20I: Sri Lanka v South Africa at Colombo (RPS), Aug 2, 2013

2nd T20I: Sri Lanka v South Africa at Hambantota, Aug 4, 2013

3rd T20I: Sri Lanka v South Africa at Hambantota, Aug 6, 2013

© John Wisden & Co.