Ajantha Mendis' beguiling mix left the South Africans mesmerised at the SuperSport Park on Tuesday night.

Unable to read the unique spinner, the home batsmen attempted to play Mendis off the pitch. This can be a hazardous ploy as Greame Smith & Co. discovered.

The off-spinner, the carrom ball, the googly and the flippers were in display as Mendis virtually won the match for Sri Lanka in the middle overs.

Rain and thunderstorm halted the contest in the 38th over. At this point, South Africa, chasing 320, was at a precarious 207 for seven. Sri Lanka was way ahead on Duckwork and Lewis equation - the par score for South Africa would have been 261.

The World No. 1 was beaten in the ICC World Champion opener. Rather, Kumar Sangakkara and his men won this crucial encounter in Group `B' by 55 runs.

After Tillakeratne Dilshan delighted with an inventive 106 and Mahela Jayawardene sizzled with a 61-ball 77, Mendis was the toast under the lights.

The aggressive Albie Morkel (29 not out, 32b, 3x4) and Johan Botha (21 off 20) kept South Africa in the hunt for a while before the latter was snared by Lasith Malinga. It would have been a matter of time fora side largely undone by spin. When a batsman is unable to pick Mendis, a trigger movement forwardcan be extremely handy while coping with him. The South Africans were essentially rooted to the crease as Mendis hummed.

One of the reasons why Smith opted to chase could have been the dew factor and the impact it could have on the spinners. But then, Mendis and Muralitharan had little difficulty in gripping the ball.

In fact, the ball gripped the surface and spun. Smith's ploy boomeranged. It is pressure from both ends that creates the stress and Muralitharan bowled beautifully as well. Mendis and Muralitharan virtually settled the issue.

Smith succumbed to a delivery that pitched on leg and hissed off the surface. The South African captain heard the rattle of the timber.Jacques Kallis, lured into a miscued drive by a delivery flighted around the off-stump by Mendis, was held smartly by the athletic Angelo Matthews at mid-off.

Off the next delivery in the same over – the 21st of the innings –Mendis dismissed the left-handed Jean-Paul Duminy with a flipper that disturbed woodwork.

Abraham de Villers and Mark Boucher survived early chances at mid-wicket and slip off the bowling off Muralitharan and Mendis, who was getting his flippers to fizz off the surface. Both batsmen promised briefly before perishing. De Villiers miscued a pull off Malinga and Boucher walked across off-stump to be done in with the one that came in with the angle from Matthews.

Hashim Amla departed at the beginning of the chase, playing away from the body and dragging a delivery coming in a shade from outside the off-stump. Matthews has a very useful off-cutter and a batsman is better advised to move his front foot across and cover the movement.

However, the left-handed Smith (58, 44b, 9x4, 1x6) batted with freedom and enterprise, putting away deliveries off his legs, cover-driving with panache, and pulling with typical flair when the delivery was lacking in length. Both, Smith and Kallis (41, 48b, 4x4) gave paceman Nuwan Kulasekara the charge to find the ropes on the off-side. South Africa gained some momentum and the score was 61 for one after ten overs.

The introduction of Muralitharan and Mendis led to a major momentum shift. The South Africans were caught in a web of spin. Sangakkara deserves credit for the manner in which he has handled Mendis, given the young spinner the self-belief. Confidence that stemsfrom the backing of the captain is crucial for a budding spinner.

The sun blazed down at the SuperSport Park but Tillakaratne Dilshan was hotter in the middle. The belligerent opener’s 92-ball 106 lighted up the area. Sri Lanka amassed 319 for eight in 50 overs against South Africa.

Fuel-driven by Dilshan’s stroke-play and skipper Kumar Sangakkara’s solidity, Sri Lanka consolidated through Mahela Jayawardene and Thilan Samaraweera. Jayawardene’s batted with soft hands and deft touch. He used the depth of the crease wonderfully well to play the ball late and find the gaps in a rather old-fashioned way. Samaraweera, another batsman whose batsmanship is wrapped in classicism, provided Jayawardene able support.

Dilshan seized the initiative from the South African pace attack, disrupted the rhythm of the bowlers. The Sri Lankan opener is a quick-thinking, nimble footed batsman. This coupled with the fact that he also possesses extraordinary hand-eye coordination makes Dilshan extremely dangerous.

He can get his foot to the pitch of the ball for the classical cover-drive. He can also produce the stand-and-deliver stuff hitting through the line with his bat-speed and reflexes or just harness the pace of the ball.

Like most gifted batsmen, Dilshan can pick the length early. Given his attributes, the bowlers often struggle to find the right length against this free-stroking batsman.

Engrossing duel

The duel between Dilshan and Dale Steyn was always going to be engrossing. Dilshan won the face-off.

When Steyn probed him with fuller length deliveries outside the off-stump, Dilshan creamed the paceman repeatedly between cover and mid-off.

He was also quick to whip anything on his leg-stump. When the South African spearhead pitched short, Dilshan was able to cut and pull the paceman with disdain.

There was some bounce and carry for the paceman but not much movement off the seam on a hot, sunny afternoon. Dilshan’s proficiency with horizontal bat strokes hurt South Africa.

Left-armer Wayne Parnell struggled to bring the ball into the right-hander or take it away from the southpaw — Sanath Jayasuriya flourished against the paceman briefly — and Dilshan carved him for boundaries on either side of the wicket.

Jayasuriya was trapped leg-before playing across a length ball from Steyn that held its line but South Africa ran into another right-left combination in Dilshan and skipper Kumar Sangakkara. Sangakkara was solid, leaning into the cover-drives, using his wrists to drill the ball through mid-wicket, or clipping balls off his pads; the South African pacemen were not bowling to their fields.

Support seamer Albie Morkel was no exception pitching short and giving Dilshan room to free his arms.

Sri Lanka motored along reaching making 71 in the first ten overs during a critical phase when the pacemen were unable to make early inroads after Graeme Smith won the toss. When the second block of Power Play overs concluded in the 15th over, Sri Lanka had rollicked to 105 for one.

Dilshan got to a thrill-a-minute half century off only 38 balls. Spinners, offie Johan Botha and left-armer van der Merwe, checked the run rate with some disciplined bowling.

Dilshan and Sangakkara worked the ball around for singles and twos apart from finding the occasional boundary.

Audacious boundaries

Dilshan reached his third ODI century after opening out with a couple of audacious boundaries off occasional off-spinner spinner Jean-Paul Duminy before turning the bowler for a single. His hundred had consumed 87 balls and included 15 fours and a six.

However, Sangakkara who had rotated the strike admirably with clever placements, fell for a 74-ball 54 (5x4) playing an attempted drive a shade early for bowler Duminy — operating from round the wicket — to hold the catch. The second wicket pair had taken the score from 16 for one in the third over to 174 in the 28th.

Not much later, Dilshan sliced a short ball from Steyn into third man’s hands. But then, his inventive innings had provided Sri Lanka the initiative.

Scoreboard (AP)

Sri Lanka

Tillakaratne Dilshan c Morkel b Steyn 106

Sanath Jayasuriya lbw b Steyn 10

Kumar Sangakkara c & b Duminy 54

Mahela Jayawardene c Duminy b Parnell 77

Thilan Samaraweera c Van der Merwe b Parnell 37

Angelo Mathews b Steyn 15

Thilina Kandamby c Duminy b Parnell 6

Nuwan Kulasekara run out (Van der Merwe) 1

Muttiah Muralitharan not out 0

Extras (5lb, 5w, 3nb): 13

TOTAL (for 8 wickets): 319 Overs: 50.

Fall of wickets: 1-16, 2-174, 3-181, 4-297, 5-297, 6-314, 7-317, 8-319.

Bowling: Dale Steyn 9-2-47-3 (1w), Wayne Parnell 10-0-79-3 (1nb,

3w), Jacques Kallis 7-0-43-0, Albie Morkel 4-0-39-0 (1nb), Johan

Botha 9-0-53-0 (1nb, 1w), Roelof van der Merwe 10-0-42-0, J.P.

Duminy 1-0-11-1.

South Africa

Graeme Smith b Mendis 58

Hashim Amla b Mathews 2

Jacques Kallis c Mathews b Mendis 41

AB de Villiers c Jayawardene b Malinga 24

JP Duminy b Mendis 0

Mark Boucher lbw b Mathews 26

Albie Morkel not out 29

Johan Botha c Mathews b Malinga 21

Roelof van der Merwe not out 3

Extras (2w): 2

TOTAL (for 7 wickets): 206 Overs: 37.4.

Did not bat: Dale Steyn, Wayne Parnell.

Fall of wickets: 1-9, 2-90, 3-113, 4-113, 5-142, 6-163, 7-198.

Bowling: Lasith Malinga 7.4-0-43-2 (1w), Nuwan Kulasekara

7-0-44-0, Angelo Mathews 8-1-43-2, Muttiah Muralitharan 8-0-46-0,

Ajantha Mendis 7-0-30-3 (1w).

Result: Sri Lanka wins by 55 runs on Duckworth/Lewis method.

Toss: South Africa.

Umpires: Ian Gould, England, and Simon Taufel, Australia.

TV umpire: Steve Davis, Australia. Match referee: Jeff Crowe, New Zealand.

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