For more than an hour on Saturday (February 4), play in the third one-day international between South Africa and Sri Lanka was held up by bees. Sri Lanka were 117 for four and needed to provide a sting in the tail. Perhaps unsurprisingly they failed, getting bowled out for 163, before South Africa eased to a seven-wicket win to clinch the series at the first opportunity.
But for the bees, this would have been another forgettable encounter in a one-sided series. Although Niroshan Dickwella made 74, Sri Lanka’s highest score of the tour, and Lahiru Kumara was entertaining on his ODI debut, once again there was a painful gap in class between the two sides. South Africa may reduce it if they rest some senior players for the remaining two games, but already Sri Lanka may have one foot on the plane home after a largely depressing tour.
Both sides made a couple of changes for the third ODI, which saw the Proteas – and the Wanderers – decked out in pink for the fifth time, all in the name of breast cancer awareness and fundraising. David Miller had already been ruled out of the series with a finger injury, creating a space for Farhaan Behardien, but the hosts made another change as Dwaine Pretorius replaced Wayne Parnell. Sri Lanka brought in Kumara and Lahiru Madushanka in expectation of a quick pitch, leaving out Chaturanga de Silva and Nuwan kulasekara.
After losing the toss and being stuck in to bat, Sri Lanka’s openers started brightly – as they had in the second match in Durban. Taking advantage of a rare spell of poor South African fielding, which saw Faf du Plessis and JP Duminy dropping catches, Upul Tharanga and Dickwella put on 60 at a decent rate. But one delivery after Duminy had given Dickwella a reprieve as he shelled a chance running back from point, Kagiso Rabada made the breakthrough. The short ball hurried Tharanga (31), and his top edge was safely pouched by Pretorius at fine leg.
Sri Lankas innings deteriorated quickly thereafter. Andile Phehlukwayo picked up the wickets of Kusal Mendis and Dinesh Chandimal in the space of three overs – Mendis well caught by Amla at slip; Chandimal slashing out to deep cover-point. Dickwella continued to score comfortably, bringing up his half-century in 53 balls, but lost another partner when Dhananjaya de Silva (16) edged to slip off Chris Morris.
Then came the real entertainment, as the bees arrived. At first there were a couple of harmless fly-bys. Then they began to hover. Then they decided that Quinton de Kock’s helmet smelt like a fine place to call home. The players took an early drinks break in the hope that it would be a temporary interruption. But when a broom failed to move the bees along, it became clear that a serious delay was on the cards.
Morris came up with a theory that a fire extinguisher might do the trick, and groundsman Bethuel Buthelezi put it to the test. Although the bees dispersed for a moment, they soon reconvened on the outfield.
A beekeeper was summoned. He arrived promptly, overalls and boots on, and strode out with a couple of Langstroth hives full of frames containing tantalising honey. That did the trick, and around 65 minutes after bees had stopped play, the players emerged once more. Even with the distraction of a few stragglers buzzing around his head, Rabada removed Asela Gunaratne in his second over after the break.
Dickwella hit a few more freewheeling boundaries, but ultimately fell to the short ball from Pretorius, edging through to de Kock. Sri Lanka predictably disintegrated thereafter, losing their final four wickets for the addition of 14 runs as they were bowled out inside 40 overs. They are yet to last 50 overs, or pass 200, in the series.
Only another swarm of bees or rain were likely to stop South Africa as they pursued such a paltry target. The brightest spot for Sri Lanka was Kumara’s opening spell.
Although it was erratic – his first over contained three wides, a no-ball, and cost 10 – he bowled at great pace and rushed the batsmen. De Kock played on in the teenagers second over, and du Plessis top-edged his first delivery for six.
Had Chandimal held on to a straightforward catch behind the wicket off Suranga Lakmal when Hashim Amla was on 12, there might have been some nerves for South Africa. Instead Amla made a cautious 34, du Plessis scored 24, and AB de Villiers saw South Africa home with an unbeaten 60.
JP Duminy was 28 not out when the Proteas crossed the line with 18 overs remaining. Despite the hour-long bee delay, the pink-clad crowd drained out of the Wanderers well ahead of time.
By clinching the game, South Africa won their 12th straight ODI on home soil – a new record for them. The fourth ODI at Newlands on Tuesday offers an excellent opportunity to extend that, given Sri Lankas ineptitude in the series so far.