South Africa head coach Mark Boucher rued his side’s inability to battle it out in tough conditions for batting as the Proteas slumped to a 78-run defeat in the third ODI in Colombo to register yet another series defeat in the 50-over format.
Bowling first, South Africa restricted the Lankans to 203, but had a horror start to their chase. Aiden Markram, Reeza Hendricks and Rassie van der Dussen all fell within the first five overs, while the rest of the order collapsed as soon as spin was introduced.
The Lankan spinners, led by debutant Maheesh Theekshana, were all over the Protea batters as the visitors got bowled out for 125 and slumped to a 2-1 series defeat.
Reflecting on the chase, Boucher said that it was ‘frustrating’ to see the batsmen collapse the way they did, given they’d done well in each of the first two games.
"It was frustrating because everyone in our top order has had a good knock in the previous two games," Boucher said after the game.
"They've spent some time out in the middle; the guys are in good form. On a wicket that is tough, and is going to get tougher as the game goes on, to lose three wickets in the first five overs and four of your top six in the first 10, you're always going to be on the back foot.
“Although we kept up with the required run rate the whole time we just lost wickets. And they did bowl well -- they bowled smartly. Their seamer bowled with good energy and bowled good areas, backed up by some good catching."
However the biggest regret of the series, Boucher said, was not closing out the first ODI. Chasing 301, South Africa were cruising at 209/2 at one stage, but then inexplicably slipped to a 14-run defeat to go behind in the series.
"If I look at the series as a whole, we were given an opportunity to win the series in the first game. We were in control of that run chase and we slipped up in maybe a period of five overs. We were unfortunate to lose Temba when we did.
“In order to win a series in the subcontinent, you've got to cash in when that opportunity arises. That's the biggest regret, that we didn't finish off that first game."
Questions were raised about the Proteas’ team combination as soon as the batsmen failed to chase the target down. Boucher picked only five specialist batsmen, with seam-bowling all-rounders Wiaan Mulder and Andile Phehlukwayo being slotted-in at No.6 and No.7 respectively. The move was puzzling because, between them, Mulder and Phehlukwayo bowled a combined two overs together, with the spinners bowling a staggering 40 overs.
Boucher said that he opted for the combination to have at least three seam-bowling options at his disposal, and revealed that he trusted the Top 5 to do its job.
"We thought with the three spinners coming in, we wanted to have the option of three seamers. That is why we took a batter out and put Wiaan in. Also, our batters are in good form and we also wanted to have three seamers," Boucher said.
"It would have been nice to have another batter but we would have been in a difficult position losing four batters in the first 10 overs anyway. We've got depth in our batting with the allrounders; we batted right down to Keshav [Maharaj]."
The Proteas head coach was, however, pleased with the way the spinners operated, and termed the team’s openness to stack the side with spinners as a welcome ‘change in mindset’. Between them Maharaj, Shamsi, Linde and Markram took 8 of the 9 Lankan wickets to fall, and Boucher lavished praise on the South African spinners.
"It's a change of mindset. As South Africans, we are used to fast-bowlers, a lot of allrounders but you've got to back that up with good spinning options and that is where we are quite strong at the moment," Boucher said.
"We've got a lot of depth in the spinning department and guys are really competing. Shammo [Tabraiz Shamsi] is No. 1 in T20s and Keshav has really come a long way and he is bowling at his best. The mindset has changed to try and be smarter in these conditions."
The Proteas are now 9th on the ODI Super League table, having played 9 matches.