GALLE, Sri Lanka - Often it is said that the road to redemption begins with admission. Looking straight into the mirror, realising that accountability is the only way forward.
If so, then the Proteas may well be on the right track to somehow salvage this short and sharp Test series. After being handed a snotklap within two-and-half days in the first Test, there is a real fear that the Proteas may meekly surrender again in the second, starting in Colombo on Friday. It is not an uncommon occurrence here in Sri Lanka. Just ask Australia - the Baggy Greens were whitewashed 3-0 a couple of years ago.
Therefore, instead of looking for excuses and circling the wagons after the harrowing 278-run defeat, Proteas batting coach Dale Benkenstein has spoken frankly about his team’s capitulation to Sri Lanka’s spinners Dilruwan Perera, Rangana Herath and Lakshan Sandakan. The trio claimed 17 of the 20 South Africans wickets to tumble in Galle.
“I think there was a bit of panic,” Benkenstein said. “Looking up at the scoreboard and seeing 320 when it came to the second innings, I think a few gameplans went out the window. It is obviously not the standards that we want. This is my first trip here with the national side as a (batting) coach. We put in some pretty good preparation in Pretoria, trying to assimilate. We hit a lot of balls, but not a lot of competition. It’s not all doom and gloom though, because there is a second Test to come.”
Watching both Dean Elgar and Aiden Markram stranded in no-man’s land down the wicket after attempting massive heaves down the ground during South Africa’s run-chase was certainly perplexing. Equally, there were a host of other dismissals that implied the visitors were bereft of a solid gameplan against the spinners. Was it a mental blow-out or are South Africa’s batsmen simply not technically equipped to counter high-quality spin bowling?
“I think it is combination of both. I think facing the spinning ball, there a few things technically to adjust to. I think 90% of it though is mentally. You need to get used to the ball spinning past the bat, and from that side we were pretty weak,” Benkenstein explained. “A lot of Test cricket is about the pressures, and we were a little bit low on that as well. The guys are hurting. We obviously need to try and put that right.”
The South Africans were unable to train on Monday due to the torrential downpours that has engulfed the fishing village over the past two days. Benkenstein doesn’t necessarily believe more time in the nets will automatically provide the remedy for South Africa’s spin fallibilities. Instead, the former Dolphins captain has seen the rainbow on the horizon out in the middle, especially for the young batsmen within the Proteas camp. After enduring a horrid start to the tour - falling for two ducks and facing just eight balls in his two innings - Aiden Markram showed significant signs of improvement during his 46-ball stay in South Africa’s second innings on Saturday.
“As much as the runs didn’t reflect, the second innings was huge step forward for him (Markram). Had he got another low score, and not faced many balls, it could start to become a mental issue for him. I felt comfortable, he looked like his gameplan was working. He just played a terrible shot to get out to, which was disappointing, but I think there were lot of positives out of that second innings,” Benkenstein said.