(ESPNCRICINFO) – Dinesh Chandimal’s career-best 66* and five dropped catches by South Africa could not stop Sri Lanka from falling 28 short in a chase of 164 in the opening T20I. On a slow surface, Sri Lanka did not get off the starting blocks quickly enough, absorbed too many dot balls and eventually left themselves too much to do at the end. They needed 69 runs off the last five overs but lost three wickets for nine runs in the space of eight balls between the end of the 15th over and the start of the 17th and could not keep up with the required run rate.
Two of South Africa’s three spinners, Bjorn Fortuin and Keshav Maharaj, conceded at six runs an over or less but Tabraiz Shamsi had an off day and only delivered two overs for 20 runs. Anrich Nortje, Kagiso Rabada and Dwaine Pretorius formed a well-functioning pace pack though South Africa will not be happy with their clumsiness in the field. Although all the chances put down were not entirely straightforward, on another night, not being as sharp as they could be may cost them.
They will be happier with the batting effort. With a line-up that appears a batter short, South Africa’s top five did not have an individual half-century between them but all contributed to get to a par score. Quinton de Kock and Reeza Hendricks shared an opening stand of 73 before a mini collapse of 3 for 14. Then, Aiden Markram and David Miller put on 65 off 35 balls for the fourth wicket, and scored the bulk of the 56 runs South Africa got in the last five overs to give their bowlers a decent total to defend.
Wanindu Hasaranga was the most threatening of the Sri Lankan attack, which included seven bowlers. But he did not have much support. Chamika Karunaratne, Dushmantha Chameera and Akila Dananjaya were all expensive and Sri Lanka did not contain as well as they would have liked to.
Poor reviewing from Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka were understandably eager to get de Kock out as quickly and cheaply as possible and reviewed the fourth ball of the match. Chameera hit de Kock on the knee roll of the front pad as he missed a flick but his appeal was turned down. Dasun Shanaka reviewed with three seconds left on the clock and replays showed the ball was pitched well outside leg stump and de Kock was not in any danger of being dismissed.
Until the next ball. Chameera delivered a yorker outside off, de Kock tried to dig it out, the bat hit the ground and there seemed to be an edge. Chandimal appealed, Chameera appealed and Shanaka, who had wasted a review the ball before, was unsure and chose not to go upstairs. Replays showed de Kock had hit the ground but also edged and would have been out if Shanaka reviewed. de Kock was on 4 at the time and went on to score 36 off 32 before slog-sweeping Hasaranga to deep midwicket.
Markram makes his mark
In a squad packed with openers, and with the injured captain Temba Bavuma expected to be fit for the T20 World Cup, competition for places in the top three is fierce but Markram has made sure he should be in there. His improvements against spin have been evident since South Africa toured Pakistan earlier this year and were on display again in this match.
Markram navigated four tricky overs in the middle section of the innings before unleashing a slog sweep off Dananjaya to breach the boundary for the first time. He went on to play a cheeky reverse-paddle that beat the wicketkeeper for four and hit a straight six off a slower ball to give South Africa their most profitable over – 17 runs – in the 18th over, off Karunaratne. Markram was dismissed in the penultimate over but played a big part in South Africa’s last five-over blitz. Markram is South Africa’s top scorer in T20Is this year, so far, and fourth overall.
Living dangerously in the powerplay
Chandimal, on his return to the side, approached the chase with immediate urgency and survived several risks in the first six overs. There was the single off Fortuin when Chandimal tapped the ball into the covers and ran, and made it to the non-striker’s end just in time. There was the leading edge off Rabada that three fielders converged for at deep point but Markram could not hold on.
And there was the pull off Rabada that came off the bottom edge of the bat and fell short of Nortje at mid-on. But the first time Avishka flirted with danger, he was dismissed. He played a Rabada offcutter to mid-on and called for the single, Nortje swooped in and got a direct hit at the bowler’s end, along with Avishka not reaching his bat out, and found him short of the crease. Sri Lanka finished the powerplay on 34 for 1, well short of South Africa’s 47 without loss. Chandimal went on to score 50 off 40 balls and finish unbeaten.
Things keep getting better for Maharaj, who made his T20I debut as captain and then took a wicket with his first ball. He struck Bhanuka Rajapaksa with a delivery that turned into him from outside off and had reason to celebrate when Rajapaksa was given out on-field. Rajapaksa reviewed but replays showed the ball was clipping leg stump on umpire’s call.
Rajapaksa racked up a third duck in his last three innings – two in the ODIs and one here – and Maharaj became the fourth South African, after Andre Nel, Alfonso Thomas and Rory Kleinveldt to take a wicket with his first ball in T20Is. Maharaj is also only the second captain after Paras Khadka to take a wicket with the first ball on his captaincy debut.