SA managed to do something in Dambulla on Sunday that escaped them in the first three weeks of their series in Sri Lanka: win.
After playing poor cricket throughout two Tests and losing both comfortably‚ Faf du Plessis’ team got it together well enough in the first one-day international to earn the honours by five wickets with 19 overs to spare.
But it’s best South Africans don’t breathe that sigh of relief just yet — there are four more ODIs to come‚ the next at the same venue on Wednesday.
Besides‚ while the victory was comprehensive it was not wholly convincing.
SA’s ideas seemed to evaporate in the stiff wind that blew all day after sniping bowling on a responsive pitch by Kagiso Rabada and Lungi Ngidi — and JP Duminy’s whiplash pick-up-and-throw to run out Upul Tharanga — reduced the Lankans to 36/5 inside nine overs.
Besides taking wickets in their 11 overs with the new ball‚ only once did Rabada or Ngidi concede more than nine runs in any of those overs.
Then came Wiaan Mulder and Andile Phehlukwayo‚ who went for 16 and 12 in their first overs respectively. The six they bowled together yielded 66.
Enter Tabraiz Shamsi and Duminy to slow the flow of runs to 37 in their eight overs in tandem‚ along the way breaking the partnership of the Pereras — Kusal and Thisara — at 92.
Left-arm wrist spinner Shamsi kept going and ended the innings at 193 midway through the 35th over when he had Lahiru Kumara stumped.
Shamsi and Rabada were full value for their four wickets each and Ngidi’s economy rate of 3.62 told of more quality bowling.
But it was puzzling to see bowlers of the calibre of Mulder and Phehlukwayo fail to come to terms with conditions that should not have been that foreign to them.
Sri Lanka had been dismissed early enough for six overs to be bowled in SA’s reply before lunch — and in that time they lost Hashim Amla and Aiden Markram‚ both to clumsy batsmanship and to Akila Dananjaya‚ the impish right-arm finger and wrist spinner.
Amla went back when he should have been forward and was bowled. Markram did not pick the googly and was trapped plumb in front.
To watch a great like Amla struggle with the core concepts of batting like he has done for much of the past year sends a pang of anxiety through many South African hearts.
He has not scored a century in his last 27 Test or one-day innings and has been dismissed in the single figures nine times.
Markram is nothing less than the future of SA’s top order‚ a player of Amla’s stature in the making. But his duck on Sunday was his third in seven innings on this tour. Only twice in those trips to the crease has he made it to double figures.
Quinton de Kock, who was on a centuryless streak in Tests and ODIs in 23 innings, scored 47, a welcome reminder of the player he is.
De Kock and Du Plessis shared 86 off 96 balls in SA’s major partnership.
Despite the burden the troubles of the Test series have put on the captain‚ Du Plessis seems to have emerged with his own game intact.
And then came Duminy. His fearless‚ forthright play was defiance on legs from a player who last held a bat for SA in the Lord’s Test a year ago and who has become an afterthought in World Cup discussions.
He edged the third ball he faced‚ from Dananjaya‚ short of slip. He swept the next delivery from outside his off-stump metres over the midwicket fence for six.
Duminy explained that approach in a television interview as "knowing your game plan and sticking to it no matter what happens".
Duminy also hammered a six over long-on‚ swept two fours and lashed four more boundaries through the covers and backward point.
An unbeaten 53 off 32 are the minor details of his effort. What it really means is this: JP Duminy is not done.