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Match Report – SA-W vs SL-W 3rd ODI, April 17, 2024

Sri Lanka 305 for 4 (Athapaththu 195*, de Silva 50*, Khaka 2-54) beat South Africa 301 for 5 (Wolvaardt 184*, Dilhari 2-47) by six wickets

In a battle of the captains, Athapaththu’s knock trumped Laura Wolvaardt‘s 184* – the highest by a South African player and her fourth hundred since being named captain last September. She led South Africa to their fifth-highest ODI score and highest against Sri Lanka but it was not enough.

Athapaththu and Nilakshika de Silva shared in a 179-run fifth-wicket partnership – the second-highest stand for the fifth-wicket or lower in the women’s game – and rescued Sri Lanka from 126 for 4 in the 21st over. Crucially, Sri Lanka gained two points on the Women’s Championship table, which determines qualification for the 2025 ODI World Cup. They move up to seventh spot and remain in the race for automatic entry to India next year – the top five teams along with the hosts will go through – with six matches left to play.

Sri Lanka leave South Africa after their most successful visit to these shores. Along with a squared ODI series, they won the T20I series 2-1 – their first series win over South Africa. In the immediate aftermath of that win, Athapaththu hinted at international retirement but the form she displayed in the third ODI in Potchefstroom suggested she is nowhere near ready to put the bat down.

Sri Lanka had never scored 300 in an ODI before, much less chased that much but on a flat pitch with a fast outfield, Athapaththu fancied their chances. She hit the ball cleanly, was brutal straight down the ground and quick between the wickets and that was after opening the bowling and delivering a full quota of ten overs with a return of 1 for 59.

She was the senior partner in her opening stand with 18-year-old Vishmi Gunaratne and took the fight to South Africa. They put on 90 inside 16 overs before Gunaratne was given out lbw to Delmi Tucker, who was also involved in the second wicket. She took a good catch at backward point to dismiss Prasadani Weerakkody off Nadine de Klerk’s bowling and South Africa sensed an opportunity to make inroads into Sri Lanka’s middle order.

Wolvaardt brought back Ayabonga Khaka, playing in her 100th ODI, and she had immediate success. She had Hansima Karunaratne caught behind, chasing a wide one, off the first ball of her fourth over and Kavisha Dilhari caught behind down the leg side two balls later. Sinalo Jafta took both catches but the second one did her dirty as her shoulder hit the ground awkwardly and she had to leave the field. Uncapped 16-year-old Karabo Meso replaced her behind the stumps and thought she had wicket off De Silva’s first ball but umpire Jacqueline Williams was unmoved. Sri Lanka were 126 for 4 in the 21st over and Athapaththu was still there.

The Sri Lankan captain was unfazed by the mini-collapse and simply kept batting. She brought up a hundred off 78 balls in the 26th over and kept Sri Lanka on track as South Africa unraveled. Their fielding was sloppy; overthrows were offered aplenty and importantly, Athapaththu was dropped on 128 by Sune Luus in deep mid-wicket off Nonkululeko Mlaba in the 32nd over. At the time, Sri Lanka still needed 106 runs from 18.3 overs.

Athapaththu made the most of her let-off and continued to breeze her way through the chase with Silva providing strong support and South Africa losing their way. They sent down 19 wides and two no-balls in total and Sri Lanka cashed in. Athapaththu and de Silva combined boundary hitting with exceptional strike rotation and reached the target with five-and-half-overs – 33 balls – to spare to share the trophy

Wolvaardt’s second successive ton in vain

Earlier, South Africa would have been confident of claiming it after Wolvaardt scored her fastest – off 100 balls – and second successive hundred in the series against Sri Lanka. In the absence of Tazmin Brits – who underwent surgery on a meniscus tear in her left knee today – Wolvaardt has embraced the responsibility of both anchoring and accelerating the innings. She was the dominant partner in the opening partnership of 116 with Lara Goodall and scored 83 off 74 balls, while Goodall, playing in her 50th ODI, contributed 31 off 55.

South Africa’s innings stuttered through the middle period as the Sri Lankan spinners squeezed them. Goodall, Tucker and Luus were dismissed for eight runs in the space of 18 balls, but recovered thanks to their most reliable allrounder Marizanne Kapp. She and Wolvaardt shared a run-a-ball partnership of 63, and Kapp was at the other end when Wolvaardt reached her hundred before she was run-out at the end of the 35th over. South Africa were 187 for 4 at the time and the arrival of de Klerk brought an increased intensity.

De Klerk and Wolvaardt put on 92 in 80 balls for the sixth wicket, with de Klerk just establishing herself as a finisher, it was Wolvaardt who was aggressive in the stand. She hit her next 84 runs in 47 balls and South Africa scored 114 runs in their last 15 overs, at 7.6 runs an over, which seemed to set them up well until Athapaththu had the final say.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo’s correspondent for South Africa and women’s cricket

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