If Twenty20 cricket is all about holding your nerve, it might be fair to say Seven7 is about embracing uncertainty, keeping the faith, giving it all you’ve got and hoping that your luck holds. With the first serious rainfall in eight months drenching Sooriyawewa, South Africa and Sri Lanka had to be content playing seven overs each, and through the resulting mayhem AB de Villiers led his team to a 32-run win.
For the first time in three games at the Mahinda Rajapaksa International Cricket Stadium, the stands were filled nearly to capacity, and when the skies opened early in the afternoon, with dark, ominous clouds streaming in from the South West, it was a tribute to the groundstaff that even this long a game was possible. While there will no doubt be discussion over whether there’s anything left to play for, or indeed watch, in a Seven7 match, it seemed cruel to turn away those who had travelled far without any cricket.
In the event, Mahela Jayawardena won an important toss – no-one really knew what a good score was in a seven-over match – and put South Africa in to bat. Ajantha Mendis, hero of the Sri Lanka’s first match, sat out with a niggling side strain, giving Rangana Herath a match. South Africa brought Faf du Plessis into the side in place of Robin Peterson and before everyone could catch their breath properly, the game got under way at 6pm local time.
Hashim Amla, opening the batting with Richard Levi, stayed calm, and focussed on lifting the ball over the in-field in the two-over Power Play. Amla’s decision to look for placement rather than power worked, and his nine-ball 16 got the innings started in the right manner.
If Amla set the stage, it was AB de Villiers who took the game away, waiting on the ball, playing it late and swinging hard. A short ball from Lasith Malinga was thumped so hard over mid-wicket that even the 100-metre long-boundary was completely inadequate. Choosing his strokes as carefully as the truncated game allowed, de Villiers muscled his way to 30 off only 13 balls, with one four and two sixes. The innings lifted South Africa to 78 for four from seven overs.
Jayawardena prompted himself to open the innings with Tillakaratne Dilshan, but Sri Lanka got off to the worst possible start. Jayawardena, after lofting Morne Morkel over cover, drilled a ball straight to wide mid-off. Stop-start running meant that Dilshan was short, even after putting in the dive, as de Villiers collected the ball brilliantly and broke the stumps.
With Dilshan gone before he had a chance to face a single ball, Sri Lanka needed Jayawardena to press on. However, Morkel’s extra bounce and Dale Steyn’s late movement at rapid pace meant that playing and missing was the order of the day. Dilshan Munaweera, who came in at No. 3, repeatedly failed to connect, and as Jayawardena picked out the fielder in the deep perfectly, Sri Lanka finished the Power Play overs at eight for two.
The game was as good as over then, and much playing and missing ensued as South Africa’s bowlers stuck to their basics admirably. Sangakkara and Munaweera made 13 each, but with the other batsmen failing to make it to double figures, Sri Lanka was well short of the target, and only managed 46 for five from their seven overs.