Just a few weeks back, Sri Lanka were at the receiving end of a 2-0 whitewash at the hands of a weak Australian side. The side scripted a remarkable turnaround under the leadership of new skipper Dimuth Karunaratne and dished out the same treatment to South Africa in a historic 2-0 series triumph.
In the process, the Lankans became the first team from the sub-continent to win a Test series in South Africa. “It’s a great feeling. It’s not easy to come to South Africa and win a series. There was a lot of hard work, we did really well and that’s why we created history,” skipper Karunaratne said after Sri Lanka completed a comfortable eight-wicket win in little over two days at Port Elizabeth on Saturday.
“I think the tours of New Zealand and Australia were really tough, we learnt a lot. The players wanted to do better for the team and for themselves. They realised what to do and what not to do, and that’s why we are here,” he added.
The architects of the unlikely triumph were young Lankan players like paceman Vishwa Fernando, left-arm spinner Lasith Embuldeniya and batsman Oshada Fernando, who completed his maiden Test fifty (unbeaten 75) in a 163-run third-wicket stand with Kusal Mendis (84 n.o.).
“I want to thank the youngsters, like Vish (Vishwa Fernando), Embuldeniya and Oshada. Then with the bowling, Kasun (Rajitha), Suranga (Lakmal) — all put their hands up. First-innings batting is a concern, we were behind the game at all times, but came back really well thanks to the bowlers.
“I have to dedicate this win to all the guys who supported us, the Sri Lankan fans who supported us. They backed us when we kept losing, we wanted to do something for them,” Karunaratne said.
Kusal Perera was adjudged the Player of the Series for his epic 153 not out in Durban in the remarkable one-wicket win in the first Test.
“I heard good comments from all over the world, so I’m really happy. As a team we’ve worked really hard, great to see our country’s flag fly high. Normally coach tells me to just back myself and play my normal game. That’s what I do, try and play to my strengths. I know if I do that, I will get the results,” Perera said.
Young Kusal Mendis was adjudged the man-of-the-match in the second Test for his unbeaten 84 in the second innings.
“I am happy to have done well in this game and want to continue the same form of 2018. I want to thank support staff, the physio who made it happen for me. I twisted my ankle before this match but I managed to play because of you. Thanks to my mates for the support,” Mendis said after the match.
South African skipper Faf du Plessis was bitterly disappointed about the series loss. “It’s very disappointing, up there with the most disappointing (series loss) from my personal point of view,” Du Plessis said during the post-match presentation.
“We didn't play our best cricket but to beat us 2-0, they should’ve done something right. We were poor with the bat right through the series. Both teams underperformed with the bat on two pitches that were conducive to scoring runs. Two guys scoring big runs like those two (Mendis and Fernando), should’ve happened. No fingers to be pointed at the wicket, they bowled well,” the SA skipper felt.
Du Plessis blamed the soft dismissals of the Protea batsmen for the series defeat. “The biggest disappointment lies within the team. 99 per cent of our dismissals were soft judgment errors and that’s only fingers pointing back at ourselves,” he said.
After the first two innings of the Port Elizabeth Test, South Africa would have felt they had the edge but the hosts collapsed to 128 in their second innings on Day Two on Friday.
“It’s mindblowing that 31 wickets fell in two days. It felt like a superb wicket. Actually, a nice batting surface, if you put it down to bad batting from both teams. They showed today that if you apply yourself, there were runs to be had,” Du Plessis said.
The series loss to the Lankans is a major blip for South Africa after a comprehensive series win over Pakistan.
“This is a massive dent, up until this Test series, we were playing well at home, positive and aggressive Tests. Last two Tests, we weren’t on as a team. We didn't take them for granted. It’s the end of the season, maybe perhaps the guys were mentally a little bit off. But again that’s no excuse,” Du Plessis felt.
“Big five months coming up. Preparations shouldn’t be taken for granted. If guys are slacking off a bit, we need to address it. That’s one area you can control. The guys should be motivated for what lies ahead, one more series and then the World Cup. Important for me and the coach to ensure we’re on the money and there's no weakness that creeps in,” Du Plessis said before signing off.