Sri Lanka clinch historic 2-0 series win in South Africa

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Sri Lanka's cricket team celebrates winning their two five-day cricket tests against South Africa at St. George's Park in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, Saturday, Feb. 23. (AP Photo/Michael Sheehan)
Sri Lanka’s cricket team celebrates winning their two five-day cricket tests against South Africa at St. George’s Park in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, Saturday, Feb. 23. (AP Photo/Michael Sheehan)

Port Elizabeth, South Africa (AP) — Given no chance at the start, a patched-up and out-of-form Sri Lanka team stunned everyone to clinch their first series win in South Africa on Saturday — and the first for any team other than England and Australia.

More than just win, Sri Lanka swept the series 2-0 with an eight-wicket victory in the second and final test in Port Elizabeth on Day 3. The highly rated Proteas were blanked in a home series for the first time in more than a decade and only the second time since returning to international cricket after the end of apartheid.

The historic success for a team from the Asian subcontinent — even the mighty India and Pakistan have never managed to win in South Africa — came against all expectations after Sri Lanka arrived with a new captain and an inexperienced, demoralized team.

A run of three straight series losses and six defeats in their last seven tests led to skipper Dinesh Chandimal being dumped.

Yet the Sri Lankans ultimately cruised to victory Saturday in the series-deciding match against test cricket’s No. 2-ranked team, reaching the victory target of 197 at St. George’s Park for the loss of just two wickets.

Kusal Mendis and Oshada Fernando dominated South Africa’s famed fast-bowling attack to seal the victory, with Mendis finishing on 84 not out and Fernando, in his debut series, 75 not out. Their partnership of 163 saw Sri Lanka home and they pummeled the South African bowlers for good measure. The partnership came off just 213 balls as Sri Lanka raced to victory.

“I’m happy about today because we were down in the dumps,” Mendis said through a translator.

Sri Lanka is the first team to sweep South Africa at home since Ricky Ponting’s Australia came and won 3-0 in 2006, and only the second to do it in the last 26 years.

South Africa last lost at home to England three years ago and had won seven straight series at home — seeing off top-ranked India and Australia in the process.

“I think it’s really a great feeling for me and the team,” new captain Dimuth Karunaratne said. “It’s not easy when you come to South Africa and to win a series 2-0, it’s a lot of hard work. I think the guys enjoyed it a lot, that’s why we created history.”