Durban - Proteas will have a scrap on their hands when they tackle Sri Lanka’s Lions over the next month. The Lankans, fresh off a first Test series’ triumph in England, will fancy their chances, especially on their own surface.
Former Proteas’ captain and all-rounder, Shaun Pollock, said this week that the Sri Lankans would take a lot of heart from their successful jaunt in England. Having hung on to force a draw in the first Test at Lord’s, Angelo Mathews’s men then won the second Test at Headingley with a wicket off the penultimate ball of a riveting match.
“It’s the first time they have ever done that, winning over there, so it really is a big deal for them. They played the big points really well in England and they will be full of confidence heading into the series against South Africa,” Pollock warned.
The Sri Lankans have shown an increasing level of comfort in touring traditionally torrid destinations like South Africa, Australia and England, with many of their players now accomplished enough to do well on all surfaces.
And what’s more, they have also discovered a fair amount of mongrel among the younger players, who refuse to bow down to reputations.
Indeed, the Lions have found their roar.
“Before, they didn’t really have that intimidation factor in their team, but they have a few strong characters now. They are definitely not shy of getting stuck in and give as good as they get, and you saw that on their tour of England. That side of their game has certainly come on in the modern era,” Pollock explained.
South Africa, coming off a series loss inflicted by the sheer pace of Australia’s attack, will now have to brace themselves for a new examination, on the island’s proverbial dust-bowls. It’s been more than 20 years since South Africa won a match in Colombo, and just as long since they won a Test series in those parts.
Pollock said South Africa will know well ahead what kind of conditions to expect when the Test series starts.
“They won’t change much. They like to hit you with a spinning track in Galle, where their spinners can hold sway, and your fast bowlers get very little assistance. Then they will go back to the Sinhalese Sports Club ground, and just make that a batsman’s paradise,” he said with weary recollection.
Certainly, the Proteas may well have to look at the option of basing their attack for the first Test match on guile rather than force, with the Cape Cobras’ off-spinner Dane Piedt coming into the reckoning for a Test debut.
“It is one of those places where you definitely have to consider playing an extra spinner, and relying more on your slower bowlers, and swing, instead of out and out pace. It will be a proper challenge,” Pollock continued.
The former Dolphins’ stalwart also admitted that he had been surprised that new Test captain Hashim Amla had thrown his name into the captaincy hat, but expected him to make a success of it.
“Ja, I was a bit surprised that he wanted that responsibility, and it will be interesting to see how he goes. I certainly don’t think the captaincy will affect his batting in any way, because he is very experienced and settled into his role.”
Pollock said that Amla was surrounded by a strong leadership group, even with the retirement of Jacques Kallis and Graeme Smith in recent months.
“There is still a very experienced core that is well established and Hashim will know he has a lot of support. That experience will also come in handy during the Test series, when Sri Lanka come with all their spinners. Guys like Hash and AB (de Villiers) have been around long enough to deal with that threat,” Pollock predicted.
A tour of Sri Lanka always holds much intrigue for South African teams, because everything is very different from back home. The pitches are low and slow and they face a stern examination by spin. Since the initial assault by the burly Brett Schultz all those years ago, the Proteas have struggled.
The tourists would have expected Sri Lanka to be a formidable challenge on home soil, but the turn of events in England would have come as a surprise. This Sri Lankan team has worldly experience, promising talent, an ambitious captain and also a fair sprinkling of attitude.
But this is also a new-look South African team, trying to carve a fresh reputation of its own, and they will look to build momentum on the trip through a successful start in the ODI series. Should they do that, they will open the door to what could be a fascinating battle of wills and wits in the Test series.
It promises to be a tour of much intrigue.