COLOMBO – The Galle International Stadium and the SSC could not be more contrasting venues.
The former, a picturesque setting alongside the Indian coastline with the historic fort tower overlooking it, while the latter beats to the drone of the capital’s non-stop traffic in its bustling diplomatic district.
But yet for all its aesthetic differences, the exact same challenge awaits the Proteas in the second Test, starting here tomorrow (6:30am SA time).
Confronted with a trial by spin in Galle, masterminded by those two crafty operators Rangana Herath and Dilruwan Perera, the visitors fell embarrassingly short.
There were a myriad of reasons for the Faf du Plessis’s team’s abject failure in Galle, but none of it will be excusable if the Proteas don’t markedly improve over the next five days.
And that’s possibly the major factor if South Africa are to achieve success at this fortress of Sri Lankan cricket – the Proteas simply have to be patient, and try stretch the game out for as long as possible in these dry and humid conditions.
“The thing that let us down in the first Test was that we didn't trust our defence well enough,” Proteas captain Faf du Plessis told the media in Colombo.
“The important part of playing spin in Test cricket is trusting your defence. We need to try and put pressure back on the spinners as well, with what you are doing. The guys have worked really hard on their gam eplan and trying to be positive against spin - which is an element of playing spinners well. You have to also trust your defence - so that's two parts.
“Trusting their defence was the difference between how Sri Lanka played spin and how we played spin. Especially, Dimuth Karunaratne, who didn't take too many risks. He just played with good defence. As a captain, I wanted him to take risks but he didn't take risks. He only started hitting the ball on the air when he was something like 80.”
Du Plessis also remains adamant that his team has not suddenly morphed into bad players of spin overnight, despite the Proteas being trounced 3-0 by India on their last tour of the subcontinent too. He believes that with greater application the visitors can turn around their performances to record a first victory at the SSC in 25 years.
“I don't think we are a team that plays spin badly,” said. “If you look back and make references where we have had good series against spinners. Spin is not something that we mentally struggle with. There was a carelessness about our batting in Galle.
“We just need a change of mindset as to what we need to do score runs in Test cricket. You don't get to the subcontinent and try and score 100 in 70 balls or so - you score 100 off 180 balls. That is the only difference that we need to make while still being positive and making sure you make the right decision when good balls are bowled.”
Left-arm chinaman bowler Tabraiz Shamsi trained with the Proteas after a whistle-stop return to South Africa for personal reasons, but it seems unlikely that he will be included in the playing XI on Friday. The batsmen accounted for a cumulative 199 runs, and spent only 28.2 overs in the second innings at the crease, prompting the brainstrust to look closely at lengthening the batting line-up to seven specialists.
Titans duo Theunis de Bruyn and Heinrich Klaasen are the back-up batsmen on the tour, and although uncapped Klaasen was arguably the lone South African batsman to show great skill and courage in attacking the Indian spinners during the past limited-overs series’ at home, it is most likely that De Bruyn will be handed a crack at Herath and Co.
Possible teams for the SSC are:
South Africa: Dean Elgar, Aiden Markram, Hashim Amla, Temba Bavuma, Faf du Plessis (capt), Quinton de Kock (wk), Theunis de Bruyn, Vernon Philander, Keshav Maharaj, Kagiso Rabada, Dale Steyn.
Sri Lanka: Dimuth Karunaratne, Danushka Gunathilaka, Dhananjaya de Silva, Kusal Mendis, Angelo Mathews, Roshen Silva, Niroshan Dickwella (wk), Dilruwan Perera, Suranga Lakmal (capt), Rangana Herath, Lakshan Sandakan.
Start: 6:30am (SA time) TV: SS2
1- The amount of wickets Dale Steyn needs to pass Shaun Pollock as South Africa’s all-time national Test record-holder. “I will give him a kiss on the cheek.” - Faf du Plessis on how he will congratulate Steyn if breaks the record.
19.71 – Quinton de Kock’s average in his last 13 Tests over the past year. In this period De Kock has struck just two half-centuries.
25 - The Proteas last won a Test at the SCC 25 years back in 1993 when left-armer Brett Schultz claimed 9/106.
218 - Dimuth Karunaratne’s total runs in the first Test in Galle. SA made just 199 collectively.