Woeful Sri Lanka facing whitewash

By Kristopher Hinz | January 5, 2017

Review: 2nd Test, Sri Lanka tour of South Africa, 2016-17

Photo
Angelo Mathews has had a torrid series both as a batsman and captain. © AFP

At the start of day four of the second Test, a South African fan sat in the stands of Cape Town's Newlands Cricket Stadium, waving, without a hint of irony, a banner reading: "Why did I bother buying day 5 tickets?"

Little did he know, he was barely getting value for money on the fourth day. Yes, Sri Lanka did add nearly 100 runs in the morning session, but they did so at the expense of six wickets. Sri Lanka's bowling has shown glimpses of potential at times, such as on day one of the series, when they managed to restrict South Africa to 286, but the batting has been insipid throughout both Tests.

Vernon Philander formed the main South African threat in Port Elizabeth with his deadly, pinpoint accuracy and consistent swing. On a pacier and bouncier Cape Town wicket, young sensation Kagiso Rabada seemed unplayable, claiming his second 10-wicket haul early on in his burgeoning career with 4-52 and 6-55.
 
The tourists have failed to register a century thus far and have only notched up a handful of half-centuries. Kusal Mendis and Angelo Mathews both scored 50s in Sri Lanka's second innings in Port Elizabeth, but that has been all. Yet it has not entirely been an issue of failing to adjust to the bounce of South Africa.  Wasting good starts has been as responsible for Sri Lankan dismissals as raw pace and swing.

At various points in this series Dhananjaya de Silva, Mendis and Kaushal Silva have all made excellent starts but have failed to capitalise on them. Silva in particular has battled hard, only to throw it away. His opening partner Dimuth Karunaratne was run out for 43 on his only good start of the series. That was in the second innings at Port Elizabeth, where the pair had survived 32 overs at that point.

Although they have not made as many good starts as the aforementioned batsmen, Dinesh Chandimal, the dropped Kusal Perera and Upul Tharanga, who has come in to replace him, have too been guilty of edging deliveries far too wide to warrant playing at. Of all the batsmen so far, it is perhaps de Silva who has impressed the most technically, while Mathews, Mendis and Silva have been the most consistent.

It will only get harder for them in Johannesburg, with the Wanderers Stadium's high altitude making the excessive bounce notoriously hard for Asian batsmen to cope with.

There are less issues to worry about in the bowling department, with Suranga Lakmal topping the wicket-taker's table for Sri Lanka and Lahiru Kumara also impressing in just his second series. While not the potent strike force he is at home on dusty turners, Rangana Herath has still, as usual, done an admirable job.

The main problem has been poor bowling changes from Mathews and the inability to break partnerships. On a green, seaming wicket, after Lakmal had removed Stephen Cook in the opening over, Mathews strangely opted to bring himself on, mystifying the South African commentary box. Kumara was effectively almost immediately after he was brought on, and showed the folly of Mathews's choice, and perhaps that he had overestimated his impact on a pacy wicket as a first change bowler.

As for the second issue, that is one which Sri Lankan fans hope will sort itself out as this attack gains more experience in the art of breaking partnerships. However, if Sri Lanka does not put up a significant fight in the Johannesburg Test, they may not get the chance, as Cricket South Africa may consider cancelling their planned hosting of Sri Lanka and instead invite India or Pakistan in November this year.

The young de Silva proved himself a useful spin option in the first Test, as well as in the preceding home series whitewash against Australia. But, in the long term, Mathews would want his specialist bowlers consistently breaking partnerships rather than relying on the part-time spin of a top-order batsman.

Aside from the threat of Rabada, Kyle Abbott and Philander, Sri Lanka must also be wary of the threat of a run-hungry Hashim Amla. He, undoubtedly one of the premier batsmen of his generation, has failed to pass 50 in his last nine innings and his average has just dropped below the 50 mark. Averaging 49.45, Amla is scheduled to play in his 100th Test in the final match of the three-match series in Johannesburg. Out of form and craving a big score in his milestone match, Amla will certainly not be treating it as a dead rubber.

Whether Sri Lanka do or not may have significant bearing on their chances to return to South Africa later this year.

© Island Cricket

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