There are fewer things sadder in a sport than when a team is led down by administrative muddles, political interference, nepotism and issues of corruption involving former cricketers. Given how Sri Lanka pulled a rabbit out of the hat in South Africa, their board needs to decide how it wants to take the game forward.
South Africa were in for a jolt they had not expected. From feeling relaxed in their place, realizing they could close out their assignments before the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 with an expected, easy series against Sri Lanka, South Africa have been left to face some hard questions, not to mention humiliation. From being the team with a sharp bowling attack and some scintillating batsmen, South Africa were reduced to an embarrassing heap, bundled up by a team they did not see coming. (To be fair, no one saw coming.) The manner in which Sri Lanka resurrected not only their fortunes in South Africa but also, rose up against all odds does not paint South Africa in the rosy colours with which they would have liked to finish their report card.
Instead the beleaguered team from the Emerald Isles shocked South Africa twice, the first time in the first Test in Kingsmead in a nail biting affair and the second time with an almost emphatic chase to finish off the second Test in under three days in Port Elizabeth. The fact that only Australia and England share the honours for having the record of beating South Africa at home only makes it worse for the hosts who now have to turn inwards and face some serious issues including the fact that their lower order collapse has been almost a given and barring the odd performance from the skipper, Faf du Plessis, and wicketkeeper-batsman, Quinton de Kock, they have shown vulnerability that betrays the gap without the likes of someone of the caliber of Jacques Kallis and AB de Villiers.
Sri Lanka, it has to be remembered, were beaten resoundingly by the touring England team who revived their own ambitions after their own Houdini act at home against India who seemed to not have their homework quite done. Thereafter, Sri Lanka suffered ignominy upon ignominy on their tours of Australia and New Zealand to land in South Africa, expecting to be easy meat for the team looking to challenge the Indian team for top rank and consistency.
Instead South Africa were stunned twice, first by Sri Lanka’s enterprise to pull off a solitary wicket win against a formidable bowling attack and then by their initiative and daring to make some bold moves when reduced essentially to a ten man team. If the last wicket partnership in the Durban Test was evident of Sri Lanka’s ability to dig in, the St. Georges Park match showed Sri Lanka can turn a match on its head.
This is not to say, Sri Lanka are a regenerated team. But it does indicate that despite the chequered season that has seen so much off field brouhaha as well as on field controversies, causing changes in captaincy that created discord, and former players getting caught in the ICC’s investigation and obstruction plans, Sri Lanka’s cricket is still hungry even if their successes on their field have been rare at best. For a team that was scrapping the bottom in the event of a two tier Test championship schedule, beating a top ranked team has to be the pivotal moment when the administrators and cricketers wake up and take stock of what the team are capable of and what needs to be done to ensure that Sri Lanka are once again contenders amongst the top, even if it means some serious house cleaning.