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Sri Lanka clinches historic 2-0 series win in South Africa

February 23, 2019
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Sri Lanka's cricket team celebrates winning their two five-day cricket tests against South Africa at St. George's Park in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, Saturday, Feb. 23, 2019. (AP Photo/Michael Sheehan)

PORT ELIZABETH, South Africa (AP) — Given no chance at the start, a patched-up and out-of-form Sri Lanka team stunned everyone to clinch its first series win in South Africa on Saturday — and the first for any team other than England and Australia.

More than just win, Sri Lanka swept the series 2-0 with an eight-wicket victory in the second and final test in Port Elizabeth on Day 3. The highly rated Proteas were blanked in a home series for the first time in more than a decade and only the second time since returning to international cricket after the end of apartheid.

The historic success for a team from the Asian subcontinent — even the mighty India and Pakistan have never managed to win in South Africa — came against all expectations after Sri Lanka arrived with a new captain and an inexperienced, demoralized team.

A run of three straight series losses and six defeats in their last seven tests led to skipper Dinesh Chandimal being dumped.

Yet the Sri Lankans ultimately cruised to victory Saturday in the series-deciding match against test cricket’s No. 2-ranked team, reaching the victory target of 197 at St. George’s Park for the loss of just two wickets.

Kusal Mendis and Oshada Fernando dominated South Africa’s famed fast-bowling attack to seal the victory, with Mendis finishing on 84 not out and Fernando, in his debut series, 75 not out. Their partnership of 163 saw Sri Lanka home and they pummeled the South African bowlers for good measure. The partnership came off just 213 balls as Sri Lanka raced to victory.

“I’m happy about today because we were down in the dumps,” Mendis said through a translator.

Sri Lanka is the first team to sweep South Africa at home since Ricky Ponting’s Australia came and won 3-0 in 2006, and only the second to do it in the last 26 years.

South Africa last lost at home to England three years ago and had won seven straight series at home — seeing off top-ranked India and Australia in the process.

“I think it’s really a great feeling for me and the team,” new captain Dimuth Karunaratne said. “It’s not easy when you come to South Africa and to win a series 2-0, it’s a lot of hard work. I think the guys enjoyed it a lot, that’s why we created history.”

Sri Lanka’s players leaped out of their seats on the dressing room balcony and were smiling broadly as they approached victory.

They jumped up first when Fernando strode down the wicket to smash a ball from South Africa spinner Keshav Maharaj back over the bowler’s head for six to level the scores. Two balls later, Fernando clipped a single through midwicket to make history and the Sri Lankans could celebrate fully.

Karunaratne was leading his first series after Sri Lanka’s nightmare tour to Australia saw Chandimal discarded. Also hit by injuries, Sri Lanka started the series in South Africa with two debutants and two fast bowlers with just a handful of test appearances alongside the new skipper.

And there were significant setbacks during the series.

Sri Lanka was behind after the first innings in both tests. In the first test in Durban, it responded with a brilliant 153 not out from Kusal Perera, and a record last-wicket partnership of 78 with Vishwa Fernando to chase down 304 for an against-the-odds victory.

In the second test in Port Elizabeth, spinner Lasith Embuldeniya broke his thumb on the first day and Sri Lanka had to make do without him for the rest of the match. The tourists still bowled South Africa out for 128 in its second innings to set up the series-clinching win.

South Africa captain Faf du Plessis called the defeat “up there with the most disappointing” of his career.

“You don’t want to be losing series at home and obviously we didn’t play our best cricket,” du Plessis said, “but credit to the team who came out on top. To beat us in our own conditions 2-0 you have to do something right, so well done to them.”

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