JOHANNESBURG – Mickey Arthur understands fully the troubles the Proteas have had in the Test arena recently, but by no means does he believe his Sri Lankan side are favourites for the upcoming Test series between the two teams.
The Proteas have won just one of their last nine Test matches, a record that includes the shock 2-0 series defeat to Sri Lanka, in this country last year. That made the Sri Lankans the first team from the sub-continent to win a Test series in South Africa, a notable achievement for a country that doesn’t have the playing or financial resources of the bigger nations from that region - India and Pakistan.
“South Africa is a very, very good team,” Arthur, ever the diplomat, said on Monday. “They will be very well led, they’ll be very well coached and they will be very well prepared.”
Arthur, having successfully avoided poking the bear, then pointed out that his own team was ready to fight fire with fire. He highlighted the pace of Lahiru Kumara and Dushantha Chameera, who both propel the ball at speeds topping 140km/h, Suranga Lakmal the skilful veteran leader of the seam attack, and the left arm paceman Vishwa Fernando as examples of the options at his disposal.
Even the conditions won’t hold any fears for the Sri Lankan batsmen. They are expecting hard and bouncy surfaces, but Arthur’s knowledge of South African conditions will hopefully allay any fears should there be grass on the pitches at the SuperSport Park and the Wanderers.
“It was lovely walking through Centurion (the venue for the first Test) today. Just being back...they say Africa never leaves you...and I’m very familiar with these conditions. (The pitch at) Centurion usually starts slow, quickens up and then there’s uneven bounce in the third and fourth innings. It’s usually a case of looking at the surface and if you win the toss making the right decision to bat even if the conditions don’t scream to do that.”
Arthur, who took over as Sri Lanka’s head coach, expressed his delight with the team’s preparations. Like the South Africans, the Covid-19 measures in the bio-secure environment, mean the players have to train in separate groups of seven. “The boys were outstanding today. As a coach I was delighted with the quality, standard and attitude I saw at training.”
While they haven’t played a Test since March, Arthur believes the recently completed Lankan Premier League T20 tournament, will prove beneficial, even though it was a different format. “What the guys got there was competitive cricket, and for all the training sessions you do and even inter-squad games you play, you can’t really replicate that competitive intensity, so I’m glad they’ve had some of that, even if the format was different.”
Top order batsman, Oshada Fernando will miss the first Test due to injury, which is a blow for the tourists. Fernando played a starring role in the second Test win at Port Elizabeth last year, making 75 not out in the fourth innings chase to help secure victory.