Rex Clementine, in Sunday Island, 18 December 2016, where the title is “The Durban drubbing” … The highlighting emphasis is by The Editor, Cricketique.
With Sri Lanka’s cricketers touring South Africa, supporters reminisce the team’s stunning success in that country five years ago when Tillekeratne Dilshan’s side surprised many by recording their first ever Test win on South Africa soil. South Africa is perhaps the hardest place for Asian teams as conditions heavily favour the host country’s fast bowlers. All three sub-continent teams have poor records in South Africa and Sri Lanka has the worst. Prior to the 2011 series, Sri Lanka had played seven Tests in South Africa and had lost six games, three of them by an innings. Very few gave the tourists a chance. The first Test at Centurion was an absolute nightmare as the hosts completed an innings win inside three days.
Sri Lanka had been shot out for 180 and 150 and not a single batsman managed a half-century. The team’s best batsman Kumar Sangakkara had been dismissed for scores of 1 and 2. With their confidence so low, it looked a daunting task to rise up to the challenge with South Africa’s seamers in blistering form. Vernon Philander was the pick of the bowlers with a match bag of ten wickets. The good thing was that the tourists had eight days prior to the second Test in Durban. Coach Geoff Marsh came up with a rigorous training schedule forcefully addressing the batsmen’s deficiency against the rising delivery and fine tuning their technique. They were so committed for a better performance in the Boxing Day Test that training wasn’t even spared on Christmas day.
Sri Lanka dumped Kaushal Silva and brought in the uncapped Dinesh Chandimal to keep wickets in the second Test. South Africa further strengthened their pace department by including the giant like Marchant de Langa, who stood at six foot eight inches. The hard work to counter the rising delivery seemed to be paying off as the batsmen came up with a better show posting 338 runs in their first innings in Durban. The mainstay of their batting was Thilan Samaraweera.
Samaraweera had been controversially dropped for the third Test against Australia at his home ground, SSC a few months before. He was snubbed for the series against Pakistan as well in UAE. Criticism in the media forced selectors to reverse their decision and Samaraweera was brought back to the side for South Africa. He made it a memorable comeback with a sensational century and celebrated the milestone in style as he pointed the handle of his bat towards the dressing room and fired some mock rounds in what was later known as machine gun celebrations. Shaun Pollock in commentaries suggested that he may well have been ‘shooting at the selectors’.
Despite Samaraweera’s hundred, there were still concerns for Sri Lankans as their star performer Sangakkara had fallen for a duck, one of the seven victims in the innings to debutant de Langa
There was lot of assistance for fast bowlers and crucially for Sri Lanka Chanaka Welegedara was on song dismissing South Africa’s top order as he finished with a five wicket haul. Left-arm spinner Rangana Herath then tightened the grip by polishing the lower middle order and the tail to give Sri Lanka a vital 170 run lead.
This was a fine opportunity for Sri Lanka to make history. And Sangakkara was not going to miss out. When Dilshan was dismissed in the second over of the second innings, Sangakkara walked in to face the music. There was determination on his face. The former captain took pride in winning Test matches overseas and had come up with pivotal contributions whenever the national team had won overseas whether it be Lahore – 2002, Trent Bridge – 2006, Wellington – 2007, Guyana – 2008 or Headingley – 2014. Having sensed a fine opportunity to put South Africa out of contention, he came up with a remarkable hundred that was rich in quality. Batting for nearly five hours, against Morkel, Steyn, De Langa and Kallis. Sangakkara hardly put a foot wrong. When he eventually fell, of all people to leg-spinner Imran Tahir, Sri Lanka’s lead had gone past 400. Sanga had nicely set up the game. Durban 2011 will be remembered as Sri Lanka’s greatest Test win after London Oval 1998.
The Proteas cracked under pressure. Or in other words they simply choked. Sri Lanka went onto win against many odds by 208 runs. Herath took nine wickets and was named Man of the Match. But spare a thought to rookie Chandimal, who hit half-centuries in each innings against world’s fiercest fast bowling unit under trying circumstances.
A key point during the Durban win was that Jacques Kallis, South Africa’s premier batsman being dismissed for a pair. He was the kind of player who could change the course of a game very quickly and dismissing him early was vital.
It was an outstanding win. One of the memorable victories in the history of Sri Lankan cricket. But it was such a shame that soon after the series, both captain Dilshan and coach Marsh were sacked. It looked odd. Marsh took legal action against Sri Lanka Cricket and the board had to pay a hefty compensation. Dilshan suffered in silence. It later emerged that there had been a secret deal between the hierarchy of the board and a senior player to bring sweeping changes after the series.
The particular player didn’t make a single half-century in six innings during the Tests and failed to make a fifty in the first three ODIs as well before ruling himself out of the last two ODIs. Sri Lanka went onto win the last two games that he didn’t play.
Effectively, those within the national team and the bosses of SLC were convinced that South Africa 2011 was going to be a disaster. They were shocked that it wasn’t so. But there were promises to keep and Dilshan had to go.