It was only last week that I suggested in my little corner of the Musing world, there should be a level playing field in Test cricket. Yet, while gloating my assumption was spot on, I beg to say that I certainly do not condone the approach adopted by the Lankan playing XI in the two [...]

The Sunday Times Sri Lanka

Dean Elgar’s crusade against the Lankans and Angelo’s follies


It was only last week that I suggested in my little corner of the Musing world, there should be a level playing field in Test cricket. Yet, while gloating my assumption was spot on, I beg to say that I certainly do not condone the approach adopted by the Lankan playing XI in the two Tests in South Africa.

For instance, during their last tour of Sri Lanka in 2014, the South Africans struggled all the way and were quite at sea against the Lankan turners. Yet, they ended up winning the series. First, they saw to it that they won the first Test and then held on to their dear lives on the SSC turner — a spell cast by a Lankan spin doctor.

The first Test was played in Galle, and being in the game for so long, every donkey with a tail knows what is in store for visiting cricketers on that wicket by the sea. In spite of that, there was a century by JP Duminy (100) and two half-centuries each by Faf du Plessis (80) and Quinton de Kock (51). But I am still intrigued by that knock of 103 by opener Dean Elgar, who laid the South African foundation for their imposing 455 on a wicket that was not prepared for them.
Then, Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel shared 16 wickets on a strip which was not prepared in their favour, and they beat Sri Lanka in the first Test by 153 runs.

In that game, both of Lanka’s leading spinners, Rangana Herath and Dilruwan Perera, were in action but, only off-spinner Perera managed a match haul of eight wickets. In the second Test at the SSC grounds, Mahela Jayawardena fired and scored a typical knock of 165, along with, now forgotten Niroshan Dickwella who scored 72. Angelo Mathews scored 63 in each innings. Sri Lanka finished with 421 in their first innings and 229 for 8 declared in the second.

This time, Rangana Herath and Dilruwan Perera exploited the wicket in the first innings and limited the Proteas first innings to 282, which came with the help Hashim Amla, who scored 139. The two Lankan spinners shared nine wickets. Then, in the second innings, facing certain decapitation, the South Africans held on to their very lives and batted through for 111 overs, to make 159 for 8 and save the match and win the series.

Two years on, the Lankans have travelled to South Africa on the back of two encouraging series against Australia (at home) and Zimbabwe (away). This meant, their mindset was attuned towards winning. The wicket for the first Test at Port Elizabeth was a rather subdued one. Maybe, the best that the Lankans could have hoped for. For their advantage, the Lankans had their acclimatisation playing against Zimbabwe just prior to that tour. However, bad choices at vital positions and bad shot selections by senior batsmen add to the Lankan woes, and they finally suffered a big loss.

Dean Elgar this time paired off with Stephen Cook to post two century-opening stands in the first Test. Then, in the second Test, Elgar was bang on target again. With the wicket helping the Lankan seamers, the Proteas were in all kinds of difficulties at the start, after the Lankans had put them into bat. But Elgar looked as if he was playing on a different strip. He helped himself to his sixth career century. Once the early juice on the wicket dried off, De Kock joined the party and they finished with a total of 392.

Elgar has an unquenchable thirst for runs

In bowling, I wonder if skipper Mathews was going along with the game plan or, having any flexibility. Having a fast bowler who could hit the deck hard in Lahiru Kumara, he was held back till the game was more than 20 overs old. At that point, both Elgar and Amla were batting fluently. That was perfect fodder to break a 19-year-old rookie’s resolve. If Kumara missed a trick in his cricket book, maybe, he could have joined so many oters sitting beyond the boundary line. At one juncture, this same fate nearly befell the present champion Rangana Herath. Only a stitch in time saved the tomorrow of Sri Lanka’s cricket.

After making his debut in 1999 against Australia in Galle, Herath was put in cold storage for 10 years, for no reason. At that time, Muttiah Muralitharan was everything in Lankan bowling. In 2009, Herath was playing for English County Surrey, when the captain Kumar Sangakkara coaxed the selectors to recall the south-paw to play against Pakistan, also in Galle. Sangakkara did so because he studied that the Pakistani’s had a blind spot against left-arm spinners.
The ploy worked. Herath delivered and won the match for Sri Lanka, and the rest is history.

Coming back to our second Test in South Africa, seamer Suranga Lakmal scalped Cook for a duck in the third ball of the game, and thereafter, the South Africans moved to 66 without further loss, when skipper Mathews passed the ball to Kumara. For Kumara, it was make or break. But Kumara not only bowled Amla with a full length beauty, but also had the wicket of JP Duminy for a ‘duck’ in the same over.

By the time the second new ball was taken, Kumara had taken one more wicket. The ‘afflicted’ opening bowler Nuwan Pradeep did not pair off with Suranga Lakmal. Yet, instead of Kumara, this time Mathews himself came up to operate with the new ball. Yet, Kumara finished the inning with six wickets to his credit. Then, it was Lanka’s turn to bat. Lo and behold, I swear the wicket did not carry any demons, in spite of the grass on the playing strip. At 31 for no loss, there was nothing strange on the batting strip. Then Kaushal got an awkward one that came off the batsman’s blade on to the stumps. Then they opened the Pandora’s Box.

South African bowler Kagiso Rabada (L) celebrates the dismissal of Sri Lanka batsman and Captain Angelo Mathews (R) during the second Test at Newlands Cricket Stadium in Cape Town - AFP

The Lankan inning was filled with atrocious stroke-play. Kusal Mendis tried to hit his way out of an invisible problem. Mathews batting on the off-stump was caught off a benign delivery that could have been ‘ignored’. He should have known that he was batting on the off-stump. It happened in both innings. With the Lankans in trouble, Chandimal was yet again fishing outside off-stump, while Karunaratne is proving to the others, over and over again, that he is not equipped to play against good bowling.

Redeeming factors? Yes, there were some. In batting, the only batsman to finish the debacle unscathed was Dhananjaya de Silva, yet, he is being pushed around in the batting order like a yo-yo. The bowling of Suranga Lakmal and young Lahiru Kumara was encouraging but they too are guilty of faulty line and length. Yet, when on song, both were rewarded with wickets.

Yet, the overall performance was pathetic. The accusation is that the Lankan contingent did not play the two Test matches with conviction or pride. Here the blame goes to the two seniors — Angelo Mathews and Dinesh Chandimal.
I now suggest they play with a black band on their arm, for the rest of the tour. That is for the pathetic show.

Please Note: We just read about Cricket South Africa scrapping the second Sri Lankan Tour which was scheduled to take place in November this year. This is a clear indicator that they do not consider Sri Lanka as worthy opponents anymore.
There is a clear move by South Africa, England and Australia to move the two tier system in cricket and this must the first nail in the letter box for Sri Lanka.

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