FAF DU PLESSIS played one of the innings of his life and then had to watch helplessly as Sri Lanka’s acting captain, Upul Tharanga, almost stole his thunder in a memorable fourth Momentum ODI at PPC Newlands on Thursday.
In the end the Standard Bank Proteas achieved what looked like a clear-cut win by 40 runs to go 4-0 up in the series and extend their winning home run to 13 matches but it was anything but that. Sri Lanka were right in the game until the start of the 44th over when Kagiso Rabada, as he has often done in his brief career, broke the menacing fifth wicket partnership of 79 runs between Sandun Weerakkody and Asela Gunaratne that sparked an astonishing collapse that saw Sri Lanka lose their last 6 wickets for 20 runs off 27 balls.
Earlier in the day Du Plessis had made the second highest score ever by a Proteas of 185 (141 balls, 16 fours and 3 sixes) – only Gary Kirsten has done better with his 188 against the United Arab Emirates at the 1996 World Cup – to set Sri Lanka what seemed an impossible victory target of 368, bearing in mind they had been unable to score even 200 in the preceding three matches.
Du Plessis became the 9th Protea to make a score of 150 or better although there have been 12 instances in all with Hashim Amla having achieved the feat 3 times and Herschelle Gibbs twice. Remarkably, all of the top five Protea batsmen in the current first-choice XI – Amla, Quinton de Kock, Du Plessis, AB de Villiers and JP Duminy – have now achieved this feat.
The Proteas’ total was also the highest ever at PPC Newlands and meant that they had made totals of 300 plus in back-to-back games at this venue this season. They had previously made 327/8 against Australia in the famous whitewash series last year.
If the Proteas thought they were as good as home at the halfway stage, Tharanga certainly had other ideas. He took the lead with his consistent partner, Niroshan Dickwella, in putting on exactly 100 in the 10 power play overs with 13 fours and 4 sixes. This compared with the 59/1 the Proteas had managed at the same stage. He went on to finish with 119 (90 balls, 11 fours and 7 sixes). He and Du Plessis finished with almost identical strike rates.
Tharanga is no stranger to this sort of performance. He and the legendary Sanath Jayasuriya put on 286 in 32 overs for the first wicket against England at Headingley in 2006 and then he and Mahela Jayawardene added 213 in 38.4 overs for the first wicket against India in 2013. On the former occasion the pair posted 133 in the first 10 overs!
The Sri Lankans stayed miles ahead of the required run rate and De Villiers had to turn to Wayne Parnell for his get out of jail card. The latter made a concerted short ball attack to remove both the No.3, Kusal Mendis, and Tharanga in the space of three deliveries in a spell of 2/8 in 3 overs and he was then backed up by Rabada with 1/19 in his three that included a dropped catch that went for tour.
It was clearly going to boil down to which side held their nerve better and it appeared to be going Sri Lanka’s way when the Proteas dropped another catch in the deep to prolong the fifth wicket partnership even further.
But the match turned back the Proteas’ way when Rabada struck, Imran Tahir got two wickets in his last over, Dwaine Pretorius also got one and then Parnell cleaned up the tail to finish with the figures of 4/58 that were highly impressive in the circumstances.
It was statistically at least one of the great games played at Newlands in this format and victory here would have meant more to Sri Lanka than their success in the T20 Series. They lifted their game to a new level against what was to all intents and purposes a full strength Proteas line-up.
Du Plessis was named Momentum Man of the Match but it was an evening when it could easily have been shared.