SPORT It looks so easy for Proteas
Sri Lanka need star batsmen to fire, or they’re in for another heavy defeat
BOTH South Africa and Sri Lanka will regard victory as especially sweet in the second Test match at Kingsmead, starting here on Monday.
For the visitors, apart from being 1-0 down in the threematch series, they will be looking for a break in their dismal run of 15 Tests without a win, stretching back to July last year when they beat India by 10 wickets in Galle.
Significantly, that was the 133rd and last Test of their icon, Muttiah Muralitharan, underlining just how valuable the spinner was to their cause.
It’s also worth noting that their fine pace bowler, Lasith Malinga, was man of the match at Galle, and his subsequent decision to absent himself from Test cricket in favour of the limited-overs forms of the game has also hit Sri Lanka badly.
As for South Africa, they have lost their last three Test matches at Kingsmead – against Australia (2008/9), England (2009/10) and India (2010/11) – and captain Graeme Smith will be especially eager to put right that losing run as well as clinch their first home series since they defeated Bangladesh at the back end of 2008. He and his team will rarely have a better opportunity.
The Proteas’ innings and 81- run victory at Centurion underlined that the home team are clearly superior in all disciplines to their opponents on home soil.
The decision by the Sri Lankans not to practise earlier this week in Durban will suggest to some they are resigned to their fate, although skipper Tillakaratne Dilshan denied this, saying they preferred to take a break from the game and engage in fitness work and “team-building”.
Dilshan, who has lost three Test series and has yet to record a single victory in 10 matches since taking over as captain from Kumar Sangakkara, pointed out that his team had suffered a series of poor starts to matches – something they were determined to put right in Durban.
Their two star batsmen, Mahela Jayawardene and Sangakkara, have yet to fire and there is little doubt that Sri Lanka will continue to struggle with the bat if these kingpins continue to underperform.
It’s not a given that teams from the subcontinent will struggle in South African conditions; after all India played exceptionally well to draw their series here last season, but they were able to call on a team of exceptional quality, particularly among their batsmen, not to mention the supreme guiding powers of South Africa’s current coach, Gary Kirsten, who prepared his team meticulously for that challenge.
Nothing that Sri Lanka showed at Centurion suggests that they are capable of repeating India’s fightback and it would be a massive shock if they were to turn their fortunes around next week.
Smith said that while it used to be the case that Kingsmead suited South Africa’s traditional style of cricket, the pitch had slowed up in recent years and even begun to take a bit of spin. “Recent history tells us that the surface has been quite unpredictable. The pitch certainly used to have more pace and bounce than most venues, but that is changing.
“We’ll just have to adapt as a team to whatever the condi- tions throw at us, and that’s something we haven’t done well here in recent years.”
Smith pointed out that the team had gradually improved throughout the summer after a difficult year, culminating in the World Cup disappointment as well as a loss of confidence among the players amid a welter of criticism.
“The wickets haven’t been easy to bat on, but we’ve progressively got better and the settled nature of the squad really showed at Centurion where players responded to the faith shown in them.”
The Proteas captain also acknowledged that the nature of the pitches they’d played on meant they had yet to play a five-day Test this summer.
“Every wicket has been hard work (for the batsmen), but it can get hot at this time of year, here and in Cape Town, and there’s a good chance that we may have to put in the hard yards.”
Before yesterday’s rain, the Kingsmead pitch had baked for four days under a hot Durban sun, and curator Wilson Ngobese said he was confident the track would be a good cricket wicket with pace and bounce but not the kind of sideways movement experienced at Centurion.
Smith said that, fitness issues aside, it was unlikely that changes would be made to the team that won at Centurion.
His opposite number, Dilshan, hinted that “one or two” changes could be made, with back-up wicketkeeper Dinesh Chandimal taking over from Kaushal Silva because of his superior batting, while pace bowler Dhammika Prasad may be introduced into the attack.
ON A MISSION: Proteas captain Graeme Smith is out to lead the country to a first home series win since 2008.