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JOHANNESBURG – A third One-Day International century for opener Avishka Fernando provided the backbone for the home team’s hefty target in the opening One-Day International between Sri Lanka and South Africa at the Premadasa Stadium on Thursday.
Fernando’s was a superbly crafted innings, that combined care through the middle period, when South Africa’s spinners were on top, with some wonderful attacking intent in the final 15 overs, that will leave the tourists with a difficult chase.
Avishka, 23, built his innings beautifully after Sri Lanka’s captain, Dasun Shanaka had chosen to bat first. Shanaka’s decision was based on applying ‘scoreboard pressure,’ a sentiment shared by his opposite number, Temba Bavuma.
South Africa chose two frontline spinners in the starting XI, with Aiden Markram’s part-time off-spin lending support to Tabraiz Shamsi and Keshav Maharaj.
The Proteas’ new ball bowlers, Kagiso Rabada and Anrich Nortje were too short with their lengths at the start, something the Sri Lankan openers had clearly planned for, with Avishka and Minod Bhanuka playing confidently.
Bavuma turned to Maharaj in the seventh over and the tempo immediately changed. One a slow surface the batsmen were asked to create their own pace, which dried up the boundaries, and created pressure. As a result, Bhanuka went for the slog sweep off the penultimate ball of Markram’s second over, missed it and was bowled for 27.
Bhanuka Rajpaksa followed a short while later, falling to temptation when the South Africans brought long-on into the circle, with the Sri Lankan no.3 slapping the ball to midwicket where Kyle Verreynne took a smart low catch.
Rain had been forecast to interrupt the match, but it did so only once in the Sri Lankan innings, keeping the teams off the field for half an hour. Around that delay, Avishka and Dhananjaya da Silva were forced to be patient in a partnership of 80 for the third wicket. Maharaj’s control and variation of pace was clever, allowing Bavuma to manage the middle overs.
The problems for the South African captain were at the other end. Shamsi wasn’t at his best as he struggled to find the right length, but the seamers were leaking runs far too regularly.
Avishka was superb, showing patience against the spinners, and the turning point in the innings came once Maharaj had completed his spell in the 31st over. Maharaj finished with 2/30 in 10 overs at that point, claiming Dhananjaya’s wicket with his third last delivery.
Avishka picked up the pace thereafter, playing a deliciously timed flick over midwicket for six off Rabada. Sri Lanka scored 41 runs between the 35th and 40th overs, providing the foundation for a proper assault in the last 10 overs. Avishka’s attack, also provided the talented young left hander Charith Asalanka, to settle in and their partnership of 96 for the fourth wicket, would prove the difference in the innings.
Avishka raised his bat for a deserved century in the 41st over. It was the third of his career and his first in a year. A very classy and composed innings saw him take advantage early, show patience through the middle and then he lifted the scoring as the Sri Lankans entered the last 10 overs.
He was eventually dismissed in the 43rd over – giving Shamsi his only wicket – for 118, which came off 114 balls, hitting 10 fours and two sixes.
His partner in crime Asalanka, playing his sixth ODI, made 72 (62b, 6×4, 1×6) assisting the lower order as Sri Lanka crept up to 300.
Aside from Maharaj, South Africa’s bowling was disappointing. Again the ‘death bowling’ was poor with lengths missed far too regularly, allowing the hosts to score 53 runs in the last five overs.
Sri Lanka 300/9: Avishka Fernando 115, Charith Asalanka 72, Keshav Maharak 2/30, Kagiso Rabada 2/66