The Star Late Edition
OH, WHY DILSHAN?
SOUTH Africa should not lose the third and deciding Test against Sri Lanka at Newlands after dominating the first day’s play. The question is: can Sri Lanka fight back by batting as well as the Proteas did in their first innings?
After scoring 347/3 yesterday, the Proteas looked set for a total in excess of 500, which, given the rate they scored at on day one, they would have reached before tea-time today.
Last year’s New Year’s Test at Newlands, against India, ended in a draw, although it was not a particularly high-scoring game, with some rain interruptions. The Sri Lankans do have a few quality batsmen in their ranks, who could prevent them from losing, although winning after conceding 500-plus in the first innings would be extremely difficult.
The islanders showed patience and discipline in racking up 756/5 against the Proteas at the SSC in Colombo in 2006, and that is the type of quality they are going to have to show at Newlands to stay in the game.
Mahela Jayawardene was close to the individual world record score with 374 on that occasion, and Kumar Sangakkara hit an undefeated 287 in the same match, as they added 624 for the third wicket in their only innings. This is still the Test world record for any wicket.
However, the two factors which are likely to count against Sri Lanka in the current match are the condition of the Newlands pitch and socalled “scoreboard pressure” – the uncomfortable mindset that has to resist crumbling in the face of the opposition’s big total first up.
The tourists’ captain, Tillakaratne Dilshan, made the wrong call yesterday when he opted to field on winning the toss. Maybe it was the rain of the day before, and the bit of cloud hanging about overhead when the coin was flipped. The cloud was not a factor, and despite the recent rain the pitch held no extraordinary life.
Sri Lanka’s bowling coach, Champaka Ramanayake, admitted the surface didn’t do as much as Dilshan had expected, and the situation was compounded by the fact that the bowlers blew mostly cold, except for a decent first hour.
Dhammika Prasad (2/85) claimed the wickets of Graeme Smith and Hashim Amla by the 13th over of the innings, and could have had Jacques Kallis caught at fine leg for one soon after, but fielder Chanaka Welegedara claimed to be unsighted and didn’t get near the SA No4’s skied hook.
Kallis (159 not out) and recalled opener Alviro Petersen (109) took full advantage of the easing conditions after that, and their third-wicket stand of 205 off 296 balls broke the record against Sri Lanka for that wicket by 65 runs.
Petersen said the South Africans were surprised Dilshan did not opt to bat first, which they would have done if they had won the toss. And his gauging of the pitch conditions does not augur well for Sri Lanka.
“It was quite dry (at the start). It is much drier than you expect at Newlands. In the last session some cracks were already starting to loosen,” added Petersen.
This is not a scenario which will excite the touring side’s batsmen, especially since with plenty of runs expected on the board, South Africa will be able to unleash leg-spinner Imran Tahir in favourable conditions for his type of bowling, in the final innings.
The form of the teams has see-sawed dramatically in the three-match series. SA won the first Test at Centurion inside three days, then were thrashed inside four days themselves last week in Durban.
Sri Lanka were forced to leave out the experienced seamer Dilhara Fernando (knee injury) yesterday and went with Prasad. Whatever the make-up of the attack, they were directionless yesterday and surrendered the initiative meekly.
Sri Lanka may have played well to gain their first-ever Test win in South Africa last week, but their body language yesterday was poor. A lot can still happen in the match, but much depended on how longer South Africa were prepared to grind down and demoralise the opposition before unleashing their bowlers on them.