SPORT It looks so easy for Proteas

Sri Lanka need star bats­men to fire, or they’re in for an­other heavy de­feat

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - SPORT - PA­TRICK COMP­TON

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.

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