The Proteas’ problems grew as they began their limited-overs tour of Sri Lanka in a dispiriting manner, going down by 14 runs against the hosts in Colombo on Wednesday in the opening three-match ODI series.
The Proteas arrived in the island nation in turmoil with a cloud hanging over head coach Mark Boucher, who has admitted to racist acts that he “deeply regrets”, and without assistant coach Enoch Nkwe, who quit last week citing a toxic working environment.
But Temba Bavuma’s men showed no sign of toxicity in their play, until it mattered the most at the death, as they put on a commendable bowling performance, which they blemished with an unmeasured batting display.
The three-match ODI series has 30 crucial Cricket World Cup Super League points and the Proteas have lost 10 of those already.
Though the Proteas have only played seven matches, eight less than log leaders England, they don’t want to find themselves in a deep hole and scrambling for points to qualify or having to go through the ignominy of qualifying through the playoffs, against the five teams who will finish bottom of the 13-team table.
After Sri Lanka won the toss and asked the visitors to bowl first at the R Premadasa International Stadium, Avishka Fernando etched his name into history as he became only the sixth Sri Lankan to score an ODI century against SA.
His intelligent 118 off 115, his third century for his country, and Charith Asalanka’s career-best 72 off 62 balls, complemented by Dhananjaya de Silva’s solid 44, carried the hosts to an average but intimidating total of 300/9.
Aiden Markram’s 96, Rassie van der Dussen’s 59, Heinrich Klaasen’s 36, captain Bavuma’s 38 and opener Janneman Malan’s 23 was not enough as the Proteas replied with 286/6, falling 14 runs short of the victory target.
Though 300 at this ground has been reached only twice before in the second innings, the Proteas had the match by the scruff of the neck but collapsed as soon as Markram and Van der Dussen departed.
They lost a match they had no business losing and will have their backs to the wall on Saturday in the second ODI at the same venue.
The third and final match will be played on September 7 followed by the three-match T20 series on September 10, 12 and 14 at the same venue in Colombo.
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