SL Team needs to believe in themselves
Losing a Test match inside three and half days wasn't the ideal start for Sri Lanka in 2017. This is especially critical as it did come on the back of losing the 1st Test in the series too and with this game the series is done and dusted for the visitors. The third and final Test starts on 12 January at the Wanderers in Johannesburg.
This game will provide the Lankans with the consolation of some redemption to build on their lost pride, though one wonders how practical that feeling will be under the circumstances. As we discussed in our earlier columns, Sri Lanka's best chance was in the first Test at Port Elizabeth where the pitch was on the slow side and was far more suited to the Sri Lankan style of play.
The pitch at the 2nd Test venue (and also the 3rd Test venue), was certain to have something for the quicker bowlers with the ball not just nipping around but also offering pace and bounce to the faster bowlers. What we witnessed at Newlands in Cape Town was exactly that with the batsmen put under extreme pressure by the quicker men of the South Africans.
The silver lining for the Sri Lankans was the fast bowling of not just Lahiru Kumara but Suranga Lakmal too.
I believe Lakmal in particular has matured immensely. He is fast developing into the spearhead's role of the Sri Lankan pace attack and has definitely filled the boots of the injured Dammika Prasad. What stood out in Lakmal's bowling has been the rhythm and the control that goes into his deliveries. Besides, he has realized that he could never be a genuinely fast bowler and seem to have abandoned the thought of touching the 140 kmph mark. Instead what he has done is to bowl with greater control in the mid 130's and seems to be getting far better results.
His partner the young Lahiru Kumara is definitely someone that is bound to go a long way provided he can stay fit. I like what was seen on display and I don't just mean the pace he bowled. His maturity, control and not being overawed by the likes of Amla and co is an indication that he is a fast learner. The delivery that dismissed Amla in particular confirms his quality as there is no doubt he could have dismissed some of the best batsmen in the world with such bowling. His six wickets - though slightly expensive - showed the penetration that he carries with him which will only get better as he matures.
As for good and positive news, the Sri Lankans didn't have anything else to show. The rest of the story is definitely bad news. Letting the South Africans off the hook after being 3/66 was the first and the most drastic of mistakes the Lankans did. On a pitch where there was plenty of help for the faster bowlers, ideally you should keep a good Test batting side to around 250 after the toss was won. The Sri Lankans definitely had that opportunity, only to let it out of their grasp by allowing the home team to eventually end up with 392, which just allowed the momentum to swing away from the visitors.
I believe that was a defining moment of the game, for from that point it appeared that the Lankans were always playing catch up stuff than really being in the game and attacking. On the back of the first innings where the South Africans could have been made to be dismissed, conceding a large first innings lead wasn't ideal for the Lankans too, and once that happened, the game was done and dusted with the result sealed. Sri Lanka from that point had no chance of coming back despite all the bravado that the team and the fans put up.
One thing that is clear in the results of the two Tests is the Lankans are totally out of depth in conditions that are foreign to them, just like what England faced just recently in India. It confirms the fact that despite looking good at home a team can be reduced to virtual below average when playing away, unless the home team is bad or played bad cricket. Examples are the recent tours by Sri Lanka to Zimbabwe and the South African tour to Australia.
The best hope for the Lankans as I said, is to give a better account of themselves in the third Test, as the greatest challenge could be the defeated mindset that tends to stick with a team, especially in situations like this. Whilst the senior cricketers will know how to fight such a mental situation, the challenge will be for the lesser experienced players to believe that they can do it.
Hence, the challenge for the rest of the tour for the Sri Lankans is not only on the field but off it too, and that is to get the men motivated and keep them believing on the job ahead.
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