South Africa threw off their long-held mantle of being a team of chokers in emphatic style after a nail-biting victory over Sri Lanka yesterday. South Africa had been cruising to victory when a 10-run partnership between Kosala Kulasekara and Ajantha Mendis started alarm bells ringing throughout the South African camp.
In previous years, it may have been expected that South Africa would have crumbled under the pressure and that Sri Lanka, the World Cup finalists, would have knocked off the remaining runs with ease. However, the new South Africa, under the steely leadership of captain AB de Villiers, ensured that defeat was not snatched from the jaws of victory this time and South Africa held their nerve to record a 258 run win with just 179 balls remaining.
Hashim Amla, who top scored for the hosts with 112, said, “When we had them 13/6 we were feeling pretty confident. However, their next 3 partnerships all got into double figures and I could see some of the shoulders starting to slump around the team. I was getting really tense when they got to 43/9.”
However, de Villiers wasn't throwing in the towel just yet. “We were getting fairly anxious at 43/9, especially since Sri Lanka had really started accelerating and had got the run-rate above 2.1. However, I told the guys that if we kept to our game plan and kept our focus then we had a great chance to stop Sri Lanka’s number 10 and 11 from scoring 260 runs at 8.5 an over.”
The plan was successful, and despite some tense moments when there was a dot ball, South Africa finally prised out Sri Lanka’s number 11 Dilhara Fernando. At the moment of victory, the reaction of the players on the two sides could not have been more different with the South African players overcome with relief and the Sri Lankan players in anguish over what might have been.
Sri Lankan captain Tillakaratne Dilshan was quick to praise the hosts, saying, “Full credit to South Africa, they held their nerve after we had pulled ourselves back into the game. I feel sorry for [Kosala] Kalusekara as he did an amazing job in getting to 19. Such a shame that innings had to come in a losing cause, but that is the nature of cricket.”
Most commentators agree that this match was the most exciting and close One Day International of 2012 so far.