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An incredible achievement

Sri Lanka became the first Asian side to win a Test series in South Africa — one of the biggest upsets in recent cricket history

An incredible achievement

Tours of Australia, New Zealand and South Africa are always tricky for Asian cricket teams. Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka have won Test matches and series in England, but winning a Test series in Australia and South Africa have been next to impossible — until recently.

English pitches suit the Asian teams. The pitches aren’t as fast or bouncy as they are in Australia and South Africa. This helps not only our batsmen but also our bowlers.

Pakistan toured South Africa in 1994-95, 1997-98, 2002-03, 2006-07, 2012-13 and 2018-19. They won only two Tests in South Africa, and never won a series.

The first victory came during the 1997-98 tour at Durban and the second in 2006-07 tour in Port Elizabeth.

In the last two Test series Pakistan’s performances were the worst as they faced whitewash.

India, the number one Test team, also failed to conquer South Africa. India took a 1-0 lead in 2006-07 but lost the series 2-1. In 2010-11 they drew the series 1-1. India lost the Test series in 2017-18 in South Africa by 2-1.

Last month Sri Lanka shocked the Proteas by winning the Test series 2-0. They became the first Asian side to win a Test series in South Africa. Sri Lanka’s series win was one of the biggest upsets in recent cricket history.

This was Sri Lanka’s sixth series in South Africa. Before this tour, Sri Lanka had won only one out of 13 Tests in South Africa.

They joined Australia and England in winning a Test series against South Africa in South Africa.

In the first Test, the islanders beat Proteas in one of the most exciting Test — they won by one wicket in Durban when Kusal Perera almost single-handedly won the game with his 153 not out.

Chasing an unlikely 304 runs target, Sri Lanka were 226-9, but the last-wicket partnership of 78 between Perera and Vishwa Fernando took the tourists to an incredible victory.

Sri Lanka’s 304-9 was the third-highest successful run chase in the last 100 years of Test cricket at the Kingsmead ground in Durban.

With the win, Sri Lanka ended South Africa’s run of seven consecutive home series wins. In the second Test, Sri Lanka claimed a historic eight-wicket win in Port Elizabeth.

Teams from the subcontinent had played 21 times in South Africa before this series, losing 19 and drawing two.

Before touring South Africa, Sri Lanka had lost six of their last seven series and drawn one. This was almost the same Sri Lankan team that faced 3-0 whitewash against England in November last year as a result of which skipper Dinesh Chandimal lost his captaincy.

In the absence of Chandimal and injured Angelo Mathews, nobody could imagine that Sri Lanka would beat South Africa who had just whitewashed Pakistan. But the young Sri Lankan players surprised not only the hosts but the entire cricket world.

After the historic win, the Sri Lankan captain Dimuth Karunaratne said: “It’s a great feeling for me and the team. It’s not easy when you come to South Africa. To win the series 2-0 is brilliant. We never expected to do it.”

Eleven Sri Lankan players had collectively played only 242 Tests. The South African players had a cumulative experience of 555 Tests. The Sri Lankan batsmen had collectively scored 21 centuries. Hashim Amla alone had scored 28 hundreds.

Sri Lankan bowlers had very little experience. They had taken only 203 Test wickets against South African bowlers’ 987 wickets.

The islanders had taken five-wicket hauls only four times. The Proteas bowlers had done that as many as 56 times.

South Africa lost a Test by eight or more wickets at home after around 25 years.

Left-hand batsman Kusal Perera was the hero of the first Test. Kusal averages 52.33 in fourth innings of Tests, which is the best among Sri Lanka batsmen who have played at least 10 innings. He has made five fifties and a hundred in 15 innings while chasing.

In the presence of Dale Steyn, Kagiso Rabada and Vernon Philander, Sri Lanka’s medium fast bowlers Thilina Fernando and Kasun Rajitha remained the top wicket-takers in the series with 12 and nine wickets, respectively.

Radaba took eight wickets, while Steyn managed only five.

South Africa slipped to the third place in the ICC Test Team Rankings after losing the series. The Proteas started the series with 110 points but slipped to 105. They are now two points behind New Zealand, who are second with 107 points.

Despite the Test series win, Sri Lanka remain in the sixth place, although they have moved four points up to 93. India are at the top with 116 points.

Khurram Mahmood

Khurram Mahmood 2019

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