Colombo - The bemused local press contingent dug up all manner of reasons to try to explain South Africa’s emphatic start to the three-match ODI series against Sri Lanka on Sunday.
First it was the light, or lack thereof, which forced Kumar Sangakkara to strike out in a belated bid to get in touch with the Duckworth/Lewis target. Then it was the decision review system, which was against Sri Lanka for the major decisions.
The time may yet come when they throw a compliment towards the Proteas. But it was left to the home skipper to reiterate that they were up against a quality outfit who had executed their plans well.
While he also lamented the lack of floodlight use at a time when the Sri Lankan sun sets sharply, captain Angelo Mathews is not a T20 World Cup-winning captain for nothing. When he has to hold up his hand and admit defeat, he does so with a straight bat.
“The South Africans played better cricket than us today, and we were a bit rusty - particularly in the field. We dropped some crucial catches, and then our middle order batting shot selection was not good, so that cost us the game,” he said.
It is an unusual position for Mathews and his side to be in, but they suddenly have questions and concerns. And they need to address them quickly, with the second ODI in the hills of Kandy on Wednesday.
There are already calls for wholesale changes to the team, primarily the recall of Rangana Herath, who was surprisingly left out at the most spin-friendly venue of the series. Instead, Mathews opted for the guile of Ajintha Mendis and Sachithra Senanayake.
“Sachithra and Mendis are premier bowlers, especially in ODIs and T20s. When you look at those three, it’s difficult to choose who is better. So we looked at the pitch and the fact that South Africa didn’t play Mendis well last year, and that’s why we used Mendis,” he explained.
Realising he faced a mounting wave of doubt, the Sri Lankan skipper reminded his audience that the series was but one game old, and the calls for sweeping changes were somewhat premature.
“Look, we don’t need to panic. It’s just one game and we played poorly. We can turn things around. Making changes shows the opposition that we’re panicked. We just need to pull our socks up and try and perform better.”
Bizarrely, it was put to Mathews that perhaps Sri Lanka needed to adapt to their conditions, having spent so much time on the road.
The Proteas, meanwhile, had no such issues, with AB de Villiers well aware that the wickets in Kandy and Hambantota have a good deal more pace and bounce, which will only encourage his entourage of quicks.
“We are very happy with the win, but we also realise that Sri Lanka will come back. It would be great to wrap up the series in the next game, but we know it will be very tough. We also know that this is just one game and we cannot be over-confident.”
What would have pleased the Proteas is the fact that there were so many notable contributions, with bat and ball.
Hashim Amla and De Villiers himself may have stolen the headlines, but Quinton de Kock and David Miller both caught the eye with confident cameos, and they will enjoy the extra pace coming their way at the Palekelle Stadium.
The Proteas are suddenly ahead of the eight-ball, in charge of the series. And they are keen to keep the foot on the pedal. Win on Wednesday, and they will shut the door on their hosts.
And Mathews knows it, too: “If we want to stay in the series we have to win that. We can’t say anything about conditions or bad light. We have to play well and win it somehow,” he admitted.
Happily, the second match will be a day-night affair. So the light shouldn’t be an issue.