Sri Lanka overcame South Africa by five runs as both teams opened their World T20 campaigns.
Galvanised by opener Kusal Perera’s 61 from just 40 balls, Sri Lanka posted a total of 165-7 from their 20 overs, which they were able to defend thanks to some canny bowling from the likes of Angelo Mathews, Sachithra Senanayake and Lasith Malinga.
From a Proteas perspective, there was plenty of room for improvement. They were unable to establish any kind of rhythm with the ball, with Perera helping Sri Lanka take 17 off the opening five balls, or with the bat, as the Sri Lankans took wickets at regular intervals.
With Faf Du Plessis absent through injury, AB de Villiers captained the side, and he isolated two areas where he thought the game got away from his side, per Alan Gardner of ESPN Cricinfo:
They certainly got 15 too many, we were very poor in the field. They ran twos on way too many occasions. Too many extras and we've been guilty of that in the past, so something we have to work on and have to get right if we're going to do well in this tournament.
Then we lost wickets at bad times, I got out at a bad time. When it gets close like that and it's a crunch game, you lose wickets at the wrong time and you lose the game. We lost our momentum towards the end, we needed to get it down to no more than eight off Malinga's last over because he's a really good death bowler, we couldn't do that.
Here, we delve into the performance of this South African team and isolate a trio of players who must improve if they are to fare better in their remaining group games against New Zealand, the Netherlands and England.
So often the talisman for this South Africa team, Steyn failed to find any kind of consistency against the stellar Sri Lankan batting line-up. Typically, the Proteas paceman bowls with express speed and unnerving accuracy, but he struggled from the off here as Perera took him to task; Sri Lanka made 17 runs from the first five balls of the innings.
There were certainly some glimpses of what Steyn could potentially do in this tournament, as he recovered from the walloping by Perera to clean up the dangerous Tillakaratne Dilshan for a golden duck with the very last ball of the first over:
To be fair to Steyn, there were some doubts surrounding his fitness prior to this clash and he did look a little short of his trademark zip. Per ESPN Cricinfo, Steyn went for 9.25 runs an over against Sri Lanka, which is way up on his considerably more economical T20 international average of 6.25.
Sri Lanka are arguably the best team in the world in the T20 format, so to return from an injury against them is a tough ask. From a Proteas perspective, hopefully Steyn regained some match sharpness in this latest run out and will be back to his blistering best for the two crucial group games to come.
There’s absolutely no disputing that Amla is a very, very fine player. He has shown time and time again his ability to construct an innings in both the Test match and 50-over formats. A combined total of 33 centuries is testament to that, per ESPN Cricinfo. But is he the right man to open the batting for South Africa in the T20 arena?
It’s certainly a point that was pondered by Indian cricket commentator Harsha Bhogle:
Against Sri Lanka, Amla opened the batting and made 23 runs from 26 balls. For an opener in this format, those runs just don’t come quick enough. When you compare the skill set of Amla to the likes of Dilshan and Perera (who bat in the same spot), there are questions as to whether he is dynamic enough to spearhead the South African charge in this form of the game.
With the Proteas T20 skipper Du Plessis likely to return for the next game against New Zealand, one batsman in this line-up will make way. If Amla doesn’t get the chop for that, he needs a big performance to cement his credentials as a T20 international opener.
You know exactly what you’re going to get with the senior of the two Morkel brothers. Albie Morkel can be a destructive force with the bat when he starts motoring. But his playing style is high risk, and we saw the downside of this in earnest against Sri Lanka.
After a dot on his first ball of the innings, Morkel launched Ajantha Mendis for two consecutive sixes with his next two balls. Instead of keeping his cool and reigning in his aggression, however, Morkel looked for a third consecutive six. He didn’t fully connect with it and was caught out.
It was a frustrating moment for the Proteas. They were right in the game at 132-4 before Morkel struck out and a bit more composure from the big-hitting batsman could have helped see his team to an excellent victory.
Morkel is a dangerous, exciting player. But at 32 years old and with 45 T20 international caps for his country, he needs to be a more composed, collected figure in these tight situations.