Chokes aside, that ‘Jaws’ music you hear is the lurking World Cup
Tournament is only three months away and the five ODIs against Sri Lanka are the last preparation SA has
Before the events of the past two weeks, it would have made sense to point out that Sri Lanka have lost eight of their last nine completed one-day internationals.
And that their sole success in those games was achieved in a dead rubber against England.
And that they have, since January last year, lost to lesser opponents like Zimbabwe, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.
And that they have lost 20 of their 28 ODIs in SA.
And that they have never won a series in the format there.
And that the last time they did play a rubber here, in January and February 2017, they were smacked 5-0.
And that all they are remembered for in the format in SA is being bit players in the drama that unfolded at Kingsmead on March 3 2003 – when Mark Boucher, having just hit Muttiah Muralitharan for six, blocked the next ball secure in the knowledge that a Duckworth-Lewis tie was good enough to get his team into the next round of the World Cup.
Turned out Boucher was wrong. Just as wrong as all of us who were convinced SA would hit the Lankans for six in both Tests on the current tour.
Sri Lanka’s victories, by one wicket in four days at Kingsmead and eight wickets in three days at St George’s Park, made us look silly, made a mockery of the form book – they had lost six of their previous seven Tests and drawn the other – and made them the first Asian team to win a series in SA.
So here we are, wondering what the hell might happen in the ODI series, which starts at the Wanderers on Sunday.
Think SA are safe on the highveld? Think again: the Lankans have celebrated two wins in their eight ODIs there and one in the five they have played at Centurion, where the series moves on Wednesday.
Three victories in 13 games doesn’t sound like grounds for SA to be overly concerned. Except that Sri Lanka had won only one of their 13 Tests in SA before this tour.
Good thing, for the home side, that eight members of the visitors’ squad of 17 were not involved in the Tests.
Also a good thing for SA that only five of their 14 were part of that calamity.
Less seriously, no fewer than four members of the Lankan squad are named Perera and three are called Fernando.
More seriously, one of the latter is Vishwa – the left-arm fast bowler who has now played against SA for the first time in his total of 12 internationals.
Between the Tests, when SA had a chance to prove what happened in Durban was an aberration, Ottis Gibson said, “We watched video of all of them, but some of our guys have never faced a left-hander before.
“You can look at all the videos you want but you still have to go out there and face him. Perhaps he surprised a few guys with his skills but we’ve seen him now and I would think we would be [the] better for it the second time around.”
Fernando added four wickets at St George’s Park to the eight he took at Kingsmead to finish as the series’ highest wicket-taker.
So Gibson could argue that he was half-right. Not so about something else he said: “The thing is that what happens here has very little relevance or very little effect on how we prepare for the World Cup. It’s obviously disappointing to lose a Test match but the World Cup is a separate issue altogether.”
Not after the events of the past two weeks. The World Cup is only three months away and the five imminent ODIs are the last preparation SA will have before their two warm-up games for the tournament.
Suddenly they have more questions to answer than previously. Others went unasked because of the brevity of the series.
As Gibson said: “Two Test matches doesn’t really tell you a whole lot. In an ideal world you’d want to play three.”
Not so sure about that, coach. A 3-0 scoreline would have revealed far more than some people would have been willing to be told.