Colombo: Sri Lankan politicians, cricket legends and newspaper were gushing with praise on Sunday after the national team’s “unthinkable” series triumph against South Africa.
The depleted Sri Lankan side led by interim captain Dimuth Karunaratne won the two-Test series at St George’s Park in Port Elizabeth on Saturday in a stunning performance.
“First Asian nation to win a series in South Africa,” said the Sunday Island in banner headlines. “Sri Lanka pull off the unthinkable in South Africa.”
The Sunday Times of Colombo called the national team “conquerors” for snatching an unexpected series win. “Rookie Lankans silence critics,” said the Sunday Morning weekly.
Both President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe were quick to hail the team’s rare success.
Former skipper Kumar Sangakkara noted they had been under pressure both on and off field. “Congratulations for achieving what no other Sri Lankan team has ever come close to. Huge character shown by all concerned with The team, coaching staff and management having been under tremendous pressure,” Sangakkara said on Twitter.
“A team effort for the ages. Keep believing and keep fighting.”
Fellow former captain Mahela Jayawardena called it a “great team effort”.
Sri Lanka went in for the series without a single win since October. They arrived in South Africa after two heavy Test defeats in Australia, which led to Dinesh Chandimal being fired as captain, coach Chandika Hathurusingha having his powers curtailed and major changes in personnel, some caused by injuries.
Sri Lanka’s series win was one of the biggest upsets in recent cricket history. South Africa had won their previous seven series at home and had won 16 out of 19 home Tests, with only two defeats, before losing in Durban.
Sri Lanka, by contrast, had lost six and drawn one of their previous seven Tests before arriving in South Africa. South Africa had won 19 of 21 previous home series against Asian opponents, with the only exceptions being when India and Pakistan shared one series each.
Sri Lanka won the World Cup in 1996 and since then the sport has been plagued by management scandals, allegations of corruption and player squabbling.
Meanwhile, South Africa have recalled fast bowler Lungi Ngidi to their One Day International squad for the five-match home series against Sri Lanka, restoring their first-choice fast bowling line-up ahead the World Cup in England.
Ngidi made a successful return to provincial cricket this month after injuring his knee in November and along with Kagiso Rabada and Dale Steyn, is an important element of the side as South Africa seek to win a first World Cup trophy.
“His recent form for the Titans in the (domestic) One-Day Cup has been most impressive and he is clearly match fit for international cricket again,” Cricket South Africa selection convener Linda Zondi said in a statement on Sunday.
There is also a first call-up for fast bowler Anrich Nortje, who is also back from injury.
“We want to see what he can offer the Proteas after his highly impressive form in the Mzansi Super League. Outright pace is not something that you can coach, and he looks another exciting addition to our pace arsenal,” Zondi added.
The first ODI against Sri Lanka will be played in Johannesburg on March 3, with the series to conclude in Cape Town on March 16.
South Africa open their World Cup campaign against hosts England at the Oval on May 30.