The Proteas gained a huge confidence boost on their difficult trip to Sri Lanka (at least to date) by winning the first ODI by five wickets in Dambulla on Sunday.
It was, in general, a flawed match overall, with both sides’ batsmen in particular being guilty of some strange shot-making.
However, South Africa’s superior experience in that department saw them eventually canter home with 19 overs to spare, opening up a 1-0 lead in the five-match series.
Experienced batters show their mettle
The Proteas’ biggest failing on this tour before this triumph had been the inability of some of the experienced batsmen to score runs.
That trend seemed to be snapped on Sunday.
Quinton de Kock found form with a decent 47, generally showing a willingness to be a bit more patient while skipper Faf du Plessis again looked in fine shape with a fluent 47 off 56 balls, which was only ended by a poor shot.
But the most impressive performer was JP Duminy, who swept superbly and looked hugely comfortable in crafting a magnificent 52 off just 32 balls.
South Africa will hope this is a sign of things to come from the experienced but enigmatic left-hander.
Even Hashim Amla looked the best he’s been on this trip before misreading a googly to be castled for 19.
Even though the respective scorecards make it look as if it was a bowler’s day, some bowlers were pretty much gifted wickets.
The Sri Lankans were atrocious outside off-stump while South Africa, notably De Kock and Du Plessis, were out to rash shots.
Yet the tactics behind such aggressive approaches were interesting.
The hosts clearly targeted the Proteas’ inexperienced change bowlers – Wiaan Mulder and Andile Phehlukwayo – and to an extent succeeded while South Africa wanted to negate any stranglehold the spinners might’ve had on them.
Kusal Perera, with a brilliant 81 off 72, was the best proponent.
Rabada and Shamsi shine
Kagiso Rabada and Tabraiz Shamsi illustrated why they are considered South Africa’s trump cards in the attack.
Rabada was hostile in claiming 4/41 but it was the guile of the left-arm spin of Shamsi that was most impressive.
He stemmed the flow of runs from Sri Lanka’s attack on the young seamers to claim 4/33, showcasing why he was the best white-ball bowler in domestic cricket last year.
Markram has problems
The honeymoon period seems to be over for Aiden Markram.
Used as No 3 on Sunday, the embattled right-hander was out first ball to an Akila Dananjaya googly that he simply didn’t read.
The 23-year-old is clearly carrying scars from the Test series and his form and confidence will be a concern.