South Africa pulls off a stunner

South Africa almost choked to another defeat after a hat-trick by Lasith Malinga, but a boundary by Robin Peterson with two runs needed to win and one wicket remaining, sealed the Proteas victory in what turned out to be a very close match.

On a new pitch at a new ground, Sri Lanka won the toss and elected to bat first despite the gloomy sky above expected to help the seamers. They were soon reeling at 98-5, as Charl Langeveldt looked in supreme rhythm to eventually end up with a five-fer. Half centuries from Tillakaratne Dilshan and Russel Arnold saved Sri Lanka from total annihilation, sharing a 97-run partnership to take the island nation to a defendable score of 209.

Sanath Jayasuriya started in his customary positive fashion, thrashing four boundaries in his little knock of 26 being particular aggressive on Shaun Pollock, who had been Australia’s target in South Africa’s previous match as well. But with the early wicket of Upul Tharanga, caught by Justin Kemp at first slip edging an angled delivery from Makhaya Ntini, and Mahela Jayawardene looking very cautious, the run rate did not sky-rocket.

Jayasuriya’s breezy knock came to an end with Langeveldt’s introduction into the bowling attack. He got overtly aggressive and thick-edged the bowler, in his second over, to Jacques Kallis at point. Jayawardene, who at no point of time during his stint in the middle, looked dangerous as he can be, and was ultimately dismissed by Langeveldt when he had him caught at mid-off by AB de Villiers off a leading edge.

It only got worse for Sri Lanka, as after a brief stay in the middle, that included a few worth-watching drives, Kumar Sangakkara fell for 28 caught behind off a bouncer from Andrew Hall, followed by Herschelle Gibbs running out Chamara Silva to reduce them to 98-5 in the 25th over. It was up to Dilshan and Arnold to resurrect the innings now, which they did considerably well.

The 97-run partnership, that easily encountered the bowling on Robin Peterson an Graeme Smith, who made up the fifth bowler for South Africa, took Sri Lanka close to 200, and at one stage they were looking set to set a target of about 230. However, a late flurry of wickets meant that they could not go much beyond 200, as Langeveldt cleaned up the tail, to set the Proteans a target of 210.

Dilshan was the first to go, when he top-edged Ntini to deep backward square, on 58. Langeveldt took care of Farveez Maharoof, Chaminda Vaas and Arnold’s wickets in the penultimate over. Muttiah Muralitharan, the last man in, was run out in the final over, as the innings closed at 209.

South Africa’s chase started with a wobble, was soon on track as Smith and Kallis shared a 94-run partnership, after Vaas cleaned up de Villiers on the last ball of the first over for a duck. Under the bright sun, which came out since the South Africans began their innings, Smith and Kallis made sure they did not allow Malinga’s unusual bowling defer them from the task at hand, as they made merry on the youngster’s rather erratic opening spell, which featured a poor line and length.

Smith was the more flamboyant of the two, however he still had to show respect to Vaas, who was spot on with his bowling, just like he is day in and day out. Once Vass completed his opening spell however, the Proteas were back to their best, with Smith going after the bowling, and Kallis holding strong at the other end. Malinga went for more runs in his second spell, whereas Maharoof was far from spiteful enough to cause any trouble.

It was Muralitharan’s introduction into the attack that pegged South Africa back. First he got rid of Smith, who charged down the track to him and missed, and thus was stumped, but only after he had passed the half-century mark and the team score at 95. Then, he picked up Gibbs and Mark Boucher in quick succession, caught and bowled and leg before the wicket respectively, to still give Sri Lanka hope of snatching the match away. Gibbs was involved in a 65-run partnership with Kallis, but it was evident that Muralitharan and Jayasuriya, bowling in tandem had a check on their hitting, and thus were frustrating them.

Despite a little stumble then, Kallis did not lose concentration, and along with Shaun Pollock took the score past 200. At 206-5 in the 45th over, it looked well and over for Sri Lanka. But as events turned out, there was still a last go they had at South Africa, and the #1-ranked side in the world almost choked, again. Malinga, who had a horrendous first two spells came back, and came back with a bang.

Malinga dismissed Pollock off a slower ball, clean bowled, off the fifth ball of the 45th over. He followed it up next ball with a yorker to Hall, which even thought the batsman dug out, managed to bob it up to Upul Tharanga, who easily pouched the catch. Kallis took a single off the first ball of the next over, to give the strike to Robin Peterson who managed to play out Vaas without giving away. Malinga, on a hat-trick, on the first ball of the next over, got Kallis to drive a fullish delivery, but the pace meant that Kallis did not hit it in time, and only edged it to the keeper, getting dismissed for 86. And when Ntini fell the next ball to a yorker, to give Malinga four out of four, it looked as if Sri Lanka would pull off a stunner thanks to Malinga’s heroics.

As it turned out however, Peterson and Langeveldt held their nerves, and despite not scoring for a bunch of deliveries together, managed to not give the precious last wicket away. The winning runs came in the 49th over, ironically off Malinga, when Peterson’s lash at a ball outside off-stump produced an edge which flew through the slips to the third-man boundary. It was a dramatic end to what turned out to be a stunner of a match.

Sri Lanka 209 all out in 49.3 overs
Tillakaratne Dilshan 58 (76), Russel Arnold 50 (73)
Makhaya Ntini 2-26 (8), Charl Langeveldt 5-39 (10)

South Africa 212-9 in 48.2 overs
Graeme Smith 59 (65), Jacques Kallis 86 (110)
Lasith Malinga 4-54 (9.2), Muttiah Muralitharan 3-34 (10)

Man of the Match: Charl Langeveldt (South Africa)

South Africa won by one wicket

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