Ford on tip­toes as Is­landers land in SA

‘Ob­vi­ously, no­body in­volved in the game tries not to win ev­ery game’

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Sri Lanka’s Gra­ham Ford has cho­sen un­der­dog sta­tus ahead of his team’s tour of South Africa. Sri Lanka, who ar­rive this morn­ing for three tests (start­ing on the 26th in Port El­iz­a­beth), three T20 in­ter­na­tion­als and five one-day in­ter­na­tion­als (ODIs), have had a good run of late. In their last two test se­ries, they beat Aus­tralia 3-0 (at home) and Zim­babwe 2-0 (in Zim­babwe) be­fore win­ning an ODI Tri-Se­ries, in­clud­ing against the West In­dies, in that coun­try.

Yet num­bers have not caused Ford, who is in his sec­ond stint as Sri Lanka coach, to dream big: “If you look over the years, South Africa have been pretty dom­i­nant against all com­ers at home and have been dom­i­nant against Sri Lanka, too. The South African side have played well re­cently and went to Aus­tralia and beat them in Aus­tralia. We beat Aus­tralia in Sri Lanka, and con­di­tions are dif­fer­ent on the sub­con­ti­nent. The con­di­tions in South Africa will be like the con­di­tions in Aus­tralia.”

Ford was keen to see how his young charges progress in South Africa after a promis­ing new start un­der him, es­pe­cially now that reg­u­lar cap­tain An­gelo Mathews and Di­nesh Chandi­mal are back after in­juries.

“We’ve gone through a re­build­ing phase and have some newish faces who did well against Aus­tralia. It’s a test of how much progress we’ve made.

“Ob­vi­ously, no­body in­volved in the game tries not to win ev­ery game, but, at the same time, if we play com­pet­i­tively, we’ll be happy. If we’re com­pet­i­tive, if bats­men post test scores and bowlers build pres­sure...”

The for­mer Proteas and Natal coach be­moaned the big gap left by bats­men Ku­mar San­gakkara and Ma­hela Jayawar­dene’s re­tire­ment: “Ev­ery­body in our camp has come to terms with that, so there’s no point talk­ing about it. At the same time, you don’t re­place a San­gakkara or a Jayawar­dene. It’s not only their scores, it’s their knowl­edge, their sup­port and their abil­ity to change mo­men­tum in cer­tain games.”

He was not keen to anoint bat­ting dou­ble re­place­ments: “I’m keen to see how the whole group goes. I’m ex­cited about how the young­sters have done, but I don’t want to sin­gle out any­one be­cause it was all done in Sri Lankan con­di­tions. Hope­fully, they can do the same here.”

Zim­bab­wean head coach Makhaya Ntini, whose team was handed two de­feats, both by more than 200 runs, in their re­cent test se­ries, said: “They’re a de­vel­op­ing young team, but they be­lieve in them­selves. Guys like [Dhanan­jaya] de Silva and [Kusal] Per­era are boul­ders of the team. If the Proteas can get past them, they can de­stroy them. But they’re very ca­pa­ble of frus­trat­ing even good teams like South Africa.”

Ford could not ex­plain how Ran­gana Herath, who is now 38, ap­pears to be get­ting bet­ter with age.

Herath, who played in Mut­tiah Mu­ralitha­ran’s shadow, has now taken 351 test wick­ets and seven 10-fers, with a 19-wicket haul from the two-match se­ries against Zim­babwe.

He said: “It’s hard to say why. He’s un­be­liev­ably sk­il­ful, a very smart cus­tomer and a won­der­ful bloke who’s also very hum­ble. But he forms an im­por­tant part of our lead­er­ship group. Why has he been so suc­cess­ful? I guess be­cause he has no re­lease de­liv­ery for the bats­man and has the abil­ity to beat the bat on both sides, which is in­cred­i­bly im­por­tant th­ese days.”

Ntini of­fered a so­lu­tion to deal­ing with the grey­ing left-arm or­tho­dox spin­ner: “He’s the kind of bowler you need to go after and not al­low to set­tle on his lengths. If you do, he’ll de­stroy you. He has very good vari­a­tion of quicker ones and a slower one that turns more than the oth­ers.”

Sri Lanka play a three-day warm-up game against the SA In­vi­ta­tion XI on Sun­day.

EV­ER­GREEN Vet­eran Ran­gana Herath


RETRO Gra­ham Ford

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