Kandy - The Proteas and Sri Lanka moved up to the scenic region of Kandy on Monday, ahead of on Wednesday’s second one-day international clash at the Pallekele International Stadium.
Both teams are staying in the same hotel for most of the tour, so there is an air of anticipation as the roadshow moves around the country. While the tourists have an entourage of army vehicles, police vans and even a helicopter waiting to take them to the Hambantota jungle, the local players have chosen to arrive in each city in their private vehicles.
As each luxury set of wheels rolls up, the ushers at the hotels ready themselves for a brush with a star and try to secure a cheeky picture - and a tip while they are at it. After Sunday’s performance, however, it’s the Proteas who are in the driving seat.
“We’ve had some tough times here, so it was really satisfying to win the first game. It was especially satisfying in that heat, which is a big hurdle for us,” AB de Villiers said in the aftermath of South Africa’s 75-run victory on Sunday.
“We know how well they play in their own conditions, so we will have to go to Kandy and do our homework again,” he said.
In that “homework”, the tourists will do well to focus on opener Tillekeratne Dilshan, who has played in 10 games at the Pallekele Stadium, and helped himself to five centuries. He averages over 97 at the venue.
While Dilshan has thrived, and Kumar Sangakkara continues to score at will, there is a growing concern over the form of the last of Sri Lanka’s Big Three, Mahela Jayawardene. The veteran struggled to 10 in the opening match, and many observers felt he was being hidden down the order.
“Whoever plays, they’ve got to do their role properly. We have some flexibility in our batting as well. Whoever goes out there, the batters need to contribute,” skipper Angelo Mathews said when asked if the batting order was correct.
When pressed on whether or not Jayawardene should take on the responsibility of opening, instead of being in the middle-order, Mathews pointed out that Kusal Perera was doing a good job at the top.
“I don’t think we have to open with Mahela, because his experience in the middle order counts a lot. We need someone like Mahela to try and control the middle order. Kusal has been doing pretty well up there, and he played a good knock today (Sunday). Unfortunately, he couldn’t carry on. But we are quite settled and we just want to persevere with it.”
The level of anxiety from the local media after just one result has been surprising, but Mathews has cut a quietly confident figure.
“Everyone is allowed an off-day, and that was ours. We have done well on surfaces all over the world, and we just have to improve in the second game,” he insisted.
With everybody talking about improving, Wednesday’s day-night affair should be a cracker. The ball on the Pallekele surface tends to come on to the bat better, and the lights will give the pitch some extra juice. The home side find themselves in the unusual position of having to chase matters, and that may play into South Africa’s hands, especially if they continue their happy knack of striking regularly with the ball.
Encouragingly, the South Africans exercised a great deal more patience in Colombo, even when under pressure. That seemed to unsettle their opponents, who have grown accustomed to the Proteas wilting in the heat of battle in these parts.
The psychological blows that Russell Domingo spoke about landing during this tour may only be jabs at this stage, but the Proteas have provoked the enemy now. In the hills above the scenic setting that is Kandy, they will ready themselves once more, in anticipation of a ferocious response.
Everything is put to bed early in this holy city, in considerate observation of the myriad of religions. But on Wednesday, the Proteas and the Lions of Sri Lanka will joust deep into the night, in a battle of combative wills and contrasting skills.