POSTED AT 06:05 AM 12-07-2018
Series will be won or lost in the batting department – Du Plessis
Lanka up against world’s best fast bowlers
Dale Steyn requires three wickets to become South Africa’s leading Test bowler.
GALLE, Wednesday: There was a time when there was an air of invincibility about the Sri Lanka cricket team when they played Test matches at home. They were virtually unbeatable on home soil for since winning the World Cup in 1996 till 2014 they lost only six Test series at home out of 37.
But since 2014 that form has dipped to the extent that Sri Lanka has been struggling to beat opposing sides even under home conditions and dry turning pitches. They have lost series to South Africa, Pakistan, India (twice) and suffered their first Test loss to Bangladesh in a drawn series.
When current head coach Chandika Hathurusingha took charge one of his main objectives is to ensure that Sri Lanka did not lose at home.
Whether Hathurusingha will be able to guide the destiny of Sri Lanka in the two-Test series against South Africa starting at Galle International Stadium today remains to be seen (with an ICC minimum two-match suspension hanging above his head).
If at all Hathurusingha goes unpunished this will be the first Test series he will be in charge of at home. The Nidahas trophy T20 tri-series was his first at home.
With Sri Lanka still struggling to come to terms since losing some of their legendary cricketers in the past four years or so, facing upto the no. 2 ranked Test side South Africa with their battery of pacemen is no easy task whether playing at home or abroad.
As South African captain Faf du Plessis said at the pre-match conference yesterday: “We certainly still believe that our three seamers can get wickets on a dry pitch. The ball will reverse swing if it’s dry. And with pace reverse swing is always a factor. The decision will lie on whether we want to play a second spinner or an extra batsmen.
“Test matches get won based on your bowling department, and your ability to get 20 wickets. We’ve been extremely lucky to have a great pace attack. Even with Keshav Maharaj coming into the Test team last year, he’s been an exceptional bowler for us. I do feel within our bowling attack that we do have the ability to get 20 wickets on whatever the surface is,” Du Plessis said.
“This series will be one where the batters need to stand up from both teams. Sri Lanka is in the same boat. They’ve got very good spinners and they’ll sit there thinking they’ve got the ability to get 20 wickets as well. That’s where you’ll see the series won or lost - in the batting department.”
STEYN ON VERGE OF RECORD
The Proteas premier bowler Dale Steyn is certain to return to the Test side after injury forming an alliance with the world no. 1 ranked Test bowler Kagiso Rabada and no. 4 ranked Vernon Philander. Steyn is on the brink of becoming his country’s leading Test wicket taker requiring just three wickets to go past current holder Shaun Pollock. Steyn has 419 wickets from 86 Tests to Pollock’s 421 from 108.
According to his captain Du Plessis, Steyn has the best record amongst fast bowlers in the subcontinent. In Asia alone Steyn has an impressive record with 90 wickets (avg. 22.66) from 20 Tests with a strike rate of 40.4. On the last tour to Sri Lanka in 2014 he took 13 wickets (avg. 17.46) to help South Africa win the two-Test series 1-0.
“Dale’s x-factor is how he picks up wickets with a reverse-swinging ball. His way of getting wickets with the new ball is getting it to move around a little bit with swing, and a little bit of seam, really consistently,” said Du Plessis. “But there’s a period of the game Dale gets his tail up. He gets one wicket, and is up there with the most dangerous bowlers in the world, because he is so skilful, and he can get the ball to reverse swing at pace.
“I’m hoping to see Dale bowl really quick again. He hasn’t bowled for a long time, so he’ll be excited to get the opportunity again. It’s a good sight to see when he gets the ball reversing, and he’s running in and keeping those legs really fast.”
THE THREAT OF MAHARAJ
Let alone the pacies Sri Lanka will also be confronted by the left-arm spin of Keshav Maharaj whom South Africa didn’t want to expose in the two-day warm-up game. However in his absence another little known spinner Tabraiz Shamsi pressed his claims with five wickets for 45 against a Board XI bowling slow left-arm chinaman. Maharaj has proved an ideal foil to the pacemen and figured in many match winning displays for his country.
“Kesh bowls the majority of his Test overs on flat wickets - wickets that don’t assist him at all, with spin. He’s already up there in terms of rankings from a spinner’s point of view,” said Du Plessis. “The thing with Kesh is that he gives you control. The best spinners in the world have got a huge strength in control. Kesh’s control is already there - we know that. Now he’s got pitches that offer him that turn. So I’m expecting a good tour for him. He’s a guy that works really hard. And guys like that generally get the reward.”
Since the departures of Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene, Lankan batsmen of late has struggled against spin and Maharaj is going to be quite a handful if Sri Lanka resort to preparing turners.
With so much rain around the country the chances of the Lankan spinners headed by veteran Rangana Herath getting a dry wicket to trouble the South African batsmen is unlikely with the pitch being covered constantly. Sri Lanka despite their recent success in the West Indies with their pacemen will probably resort to spin here with not more than two quicks likely to make the final 11. They are certain to play two spinners with off spinner Dilruwan Perera also in the frame. Whatever bowling combinations that Sri Lanka will come up with will be of no use unless their batsmen put the runs on the board.
SA’ADI THAWFEEQ reporting from Galle