The Proteas cruise to victory in Durham, of course

Of course they won. That is what South Africa does when there is not a World Cup on the line.

Members of the Proteas celebrate after their win over Sri Lanka on 28 June 2019 in Durham.  Picture: @OfficialCSA/Twitter

CHESTER-LE-STREET - Of course they won. Of course they produced their most efficient display with the ball, bowling the opposition out for 203. Of course they cantered home in second gear with the bat, knocking off the runs with 12.4 overs to spare and 9 wickets in hand.

Of course they won. That is what South Africa does when there is not a World Cup on the line.

Sure, this was technically a World Cup game in that it was a recognised fixture at the global tournament, but with South Africa eliminated after their defeat to Pakistan last Sunday and with Sri Lanka needing a miracle to sneak into the semi-finals, this affair at a gorgeous Riverside Stadium had the feel of a largely meaningless ODI.

And there are few better cricket teams in the world than South Africa in a largely meaningless ODI.

From the moment Faf du Plessis won the toss at 10am local time until he clipped the winning runs to the fine leg boundary at 17:37pm, there was only one side in this contest. The Proteas resounding victory underlined the quality that lurks within the camp but highlighted the agonising frustration they must now feel knowing that a few more performances like this one would have seen them compete for a place in the last four.

Kagiso Rabada has been rightly criticised for a toothless display over the last month since arriving in the UK. He was billed as one of the greatest fast bowlers of his generation but failed to deliver on the hype. Questions remain over his fitness and he still owes an explanation for his ill-advised prolonged stay in the IPL.

But today, he took a wicket with his first ball. Of course he did. It was a searing rocket that spat off a length and took the shoulder of Sri Lanka’s captain Dimuth Karunaratne’s bat. The ball looped to du Plessus at second slip and the score read 0/1.

Dwaine Pretorius hasn’t played since the opening day defeat to England in May but he was brilliant today. Of course he was. Nagging lines and lengths saw him claim 3/25 from ten overs, making his spell the most economical ten over stint in the World Cup. He also took a neat catch down at fine leg.

What must he be thinking now? “If only they’d played me more” wouldn’t be an unfair thought. He was hardly ever too full or too straight or short or too wide. A basic top of off stump line with the odd ball going away and the odd one coming in. He hit ideal areas and gave a lesson on how to bowl on these stodgy English strips. Of course he did.

Chris Morris wasn’t bad either. He picked up three wickets of his own for 46 runs to take his World Cup haul to 12 scalps. Not a bad return for a man who wasn’t supposed to be here and was the beneficiary of Anrich Nortje’s hand injury. He also took a neat catch at backward point.

Yesterday, JP Duminy apologised to the nation for the side’s poor performances. It felt sincere. He expressed disappointment at not playing a bigger role in the tournament but said he felt privileged to play for his country. Today was his 198th cap. If he plays in South Africa’s final game against Australia next week he’ll have 199 caps. That will be that as he has announced his retirement from ODI cricket.

Of course he got a wicket with his first ball. A full arm ball was spectacularly deemed reverse-sweepable by Dhananjaya de Silva who played all around it and lose his wickets. The last time Duminy bowled to Sri Lanka in a World Cup he picked up a hat-trick. To date he is the only South African with three successive wickets in a World Cup match. Of course he is.

South Africa were good with the ball but they were aided by an inept Sri Lankan batting outfit who looked uninterested in putting up a fight. They dragged their innings to the final over but were deservedly bowled out for 203. Rabada would pick up another wicket along the way with Andile Phehlukwayo adding his name to the wicket taker’s column.

South Africa’s openers got off to a flyer. Of course they did. Since the first came together as a pair, Quinton de Kock and Hashim Amla have only been outscored at the top of the order by India’s Rohit Sharma and Shikar Dhawan.

The majesty of Amla. The pugnacity of de Kock. A combination for the ages. Now, with a World Cup title off the table, they shone for 4.5 overs before Lasith Malinga, evergreen, slightly podgier than he once was, produced a trademark yorker to knock over de Kock for 15.

That brought du Plessis to the crease and for the next 33 overs he looked unbeatable. Of course he did. Earlier in the day he was seen sharing multiple laughs with his team in the field. He was akin to the class clown with his buddies guffawing in the background.

He promised to be relaxed at the start of the campaign. “I want to win cricket matches, I don’t need to win cricket matches,” he told us. By scoring an effortless unbeaten 96 off 103 balls alongside Amla’s 80 not-out off 105, he did just that.

Of course he did.