If the first day in Port Elizabeth ended with honours even, South Africa simply ran away with the game for the next three days.
A late flurry of wickets on the first day ensured Sri Lanka were well in the contest. Faf Du Plessis’ wicket near the close of play gave the islanders a chance to wrap up the South African tail – and early on the second day, South Africa were bundled out for a paltry 286 after a hundred-run opening stand.
It was Sri Lanka’s best opportunity to get their noses ahead in the series since the game was played in South Africa’s most spin-conducive pitch. Despite a twinge of grass left on the surface, the pitch was two-paced and flat.
Coming into the series on the back of a five-match unbeaten run, Sri Lanka would have fancied their chances to get a positive result from the game.
However, their batters failed to make full use of the conditions and periled themselves at 22 for 3.
Had it not been for the skipper’s partnership with Kaushal Perera things would have been much worse.
While Angelo Matthews did his part with the bat, his vice-captain had a match to forget.
Despite a jittery start to his innings, he survived one close lbw appeal from Vernon Philander to get eventually out for 28 to the same bowler.
A well-paced 43 from Dhanajaya de Silva saw the score over 200.
Given the pitch that was on offer on the second day, it was a very ordinary performance – conceding an 81-run lead was a massive setback and the home team took full advantage to grab hold of the momentum from both ends.
An opening partnership, which till now had dovetailed, defied all odds and punched above their weights. Just like in the first innings, there was no stopping Stephen Cook and Dean Elgar from posting another hundred-run stand – a stand that quite truly edged Sri Lanka out of the match.
Apart from Suranga Lakmal, the Sri Lankan pace battery was a huge disappointment.
Dushmanta Chameera, who had burst onto the international scene with so much of potential, barely exploited the bowling conditions, especially on the first day.
He went wicketless in the first innings.
Same was the case with captain Angelo Matthews and Nuwan Pradeep. They barely put the brakes on the run rate as South Africa scored their runs at over 4.5.
Though the batting was at its best on day three and four, yet it was primarily due to Sri Lanka’s lacklustre bowling line-up.
Rangana Herath soon became a liability as he started conceding more than 3.5 runs an over.
Faf Du Plessis and Quinton De Kock finally took the onus and ensured they declared early, with the threat of rain predictions looming.
But the pitch had barely changed.
Sri Lanka went into a survival mode and the openers played decently.
But as soon as the first wicket fell, two more followed in a matter of 29 runs.
The run-out which began the procession of the wickets was a perfect amalgamation of the lack of focus and applicability of the Sri Lankan batters.
It was again left up to Angelo Matthews to guide the ship.
And he did well.
But his senior statesman, Dinesh Chandimal cost his team hard. As the close of play, owing to a rash shot off Keshav Maharaj, Chandimal perished – further dooming the chances of a well-earned draw.
The rest of them did not hang around for long, as expected with the gargantuan task at hand, and conceded a 206-run loss.
The game was very much reflective of what happened to Australia when they toured Sri Lanka early November for a three-Test match series.
In Pallekele, Australia expected a seam-friendly pitch to further prolong their dominance only to be hit by an unexpected tremor. The Sri Lankan spinners left them tormented and embarrassed. They went on to lose that series, staggeringly by a 3-0 margin.
Likewise, regardless of what the Port Elizabeth groundsmen did to quell Rangana Herath’s threat, Sri Lanka was soundly beaten. The batsmen barely showed application, barring the skipper and the seam attack, apart from Lakmal lacked the edge. It seemed virtually all through the first innings that it was Lakmal versus the South African batters. Nobody else really stood up.
It was Sri Lanka’s best chance to win in South Africa, taking into account the venue of the game but they have all but squandered it. Next up is Capetown, where South Africa has not lost a game against any Asian side.
Last time around, when Sri Lanka toured South Africa, the home team won by ten wickets, chasing two runs in the fourth innings.
Not to forget, that team had the likes of Mahela Jayawardena and Kumar Sangakkara, but right now, there’s no one anywhere close to them.
A 3-0 scoreline is pretty much on the cards.