All-Round Dilshan Overpowers South Africa

Thirteen is thought to be the number of misfortune. For Hashim Amla and South Africa, it was the opposite until today.

On the 13 occasions before this one when Amla has scored an ODI century, South Africa have emerged victorious. He recorded his 14th century - becoming the quickest to the mark - in Pallekele but the result was not in his team's favour.

Tillakaratne Dilshan's enterprise in the first ten overs and wickets in the middle and latter portions of the South African chase bookended a the Sri Lankan comeback and ensured the three-match series will go to a decider on Saturday. Dilshan raced to a half-century in 40 balls to set Sri Lanka up for a competitive total and then ended South Africa's biggest partnership - 75 between Amla and AB de Villiers - to clear Sri Lanka's path to victory.

South Africa were 101 for 2 in the 20th over when Dilshan lured de Villiers forward with a flighted delivery but the South African captain could not clear long-on. He was comfortably caught by the substitute fielder Thisara Perera well inside the field to spark a mini-collapse. South Africa lost five wickets for 26 runs with Dilshan claiming three of those and the gash was too big for even Amla, who scored his second successive ODI century, his third in four matches and his third on this tour so far, to mend.

The visitors' shortcomings were further highlighted by a much improved Lasith Malinga, who took wickets at the top and tail of the South African innings, and the loss Dale Steyn. The pace spearhead had bowled 2.2 overs when he was struck on the right thumb after Dilshan drilled the ball back at him. Steyn was taken for an x-ray which revealed severe bruising. Though there wasn't a fracture, he will need to be monitored over the next few days to determine his availability for the rest of the tour.

What will hearten South Africa is that Steyn batted for 35 minutes. He appeared in discomfort at times but scored 23 runs and starred in a 53-run stand with Amla that almost gave South Africa the unlikeliest of resurgences.

Steyn batted with a resolve that was absent in some of his team-mates, most worryingly Jacques Kallis. After Quinton de Kock was bowled by Malinga from around the wicket, it was up to Kallis to build a foundation in the chase but he lasted only seven balls before being bounced out by the same bowler.

Despite Steyn's injury, Kallis did not bowl either, which has left his contribution in the series to just one run in two matches and he has been thoroughly outplayed by his competitor in the all-rounders department, Ryan McLaren. Although McLaren was dismissed cheaply, overcome by the pressure created by the spinners, he dismissed four batsmen at the death of the Sri Lankan innings, including three in one over, to curb their charge.

Sri Lanka's lower order implosion - five wickets for 11 runs - was sparked by Mathews edging McLaren to the keeper. The Sri Lankan captain had contributed to his team's highest stand of the innings, 71-runs with Mahela Jayawardene which ensured the efforts of Dilshan upfront were not squandered.

Jayawardene had battled through the stranglehold Imran Tahir and JP Duminy created and the trouble he had with legspinner's googly. He eventually fell to a wrong 'un but ushered Mathews through a tricky middle-overs period to help build a competitive total in the same mentoring way as Dilshan had handled his stand with Lahiru Thirimanne.

By the time Thirimanne, who was promoted to No. 4 arrived at the crease, Dilshan already had a half-century, had single-handedly got Sri Lanka's scoring rate above six an over before South Africa began to rein Sri Lanka in. Tahir, Duminy, McLaren and Morne Morkel conceded only 44 runs between the 10th and 19th overs. Thirimanne could only score slowly and eventually succumbed to frustration when he hit Tahir straight to mid-wicket but the 62 runs he put on with Dilshan were crucial to Sri Lanka's chances.

Soft dismissals aside, Sri Lanka batted with a good enough understanding of the surface to ensure they would not have to rue mistakes. Similarly, their lapses in the field which included two dropped catches - Amla on 67 and Miller on 0 - can be overlooked because they did not prove too costly even though Amla moved on to a three-figures. Instead they will focus on the advantage their spinners gave them. Dilshan, Sachitra Senanayake and Ajantha Mendis bowled 24.1 overs between them and their six wickets cost only 102 runs. The Sri Lankan performance was not perfect but it did not have to be.

(Cricinfo)

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