Skipper Angelo Mathews post-match statement that ‘it was my worst defeat as captain’ is indeed a manifestation as to how badly Sri Lanka was bruised by hosts South Africa in the 118-run innings defeat of the third Test match at Johannesburg last week.
It signalled the 3-nil whitewash in a series Sri Lanka was comprehensively outplayed by the hosts in all departments of the game. If the losses in the first two Tests were smarting, the third Test annihilation of Mathews team rubbed the salt in the wounds. Of course, the swaying factor that made the big difference between the two teams was the superior South African pace bowling attack. At the New Wanderers Stadium pitch which is pace friendly to hostile bowling, the Sri Lankan batsmen was simply outdone by sheer pace. It bordered on the unplayable with the front-line batsmen hurried on their feat just fending to the opposition’s hands.
In effect, the totals of 131 and 177 in the face of South Africa’s imposing 426 clearly reflected the passiveness of Mathews charges who were unable to mount the required type of technique to counter top class fast bowling on a bouncy track. Only Kusal Mendis, reverted to his pet No.3 position, stroked a 58-ball 41 top score in the first innings in 86 minutes, but lacked the purpose and discipline to convert it in to the type of commitment Sri Lanka required to salvage the match. The rest flinched with Upul Tharanga at No.7 the second best with 24, and skipper Mathews before that caving in for 19. Following on, opener Dimuth Karunaratne’s 78-ball 50 in 140 minutes up front was not good enough followed by Mendis’ 24 in 50 balls and Tharanga’s 26 the only semblance of resistance. That it was all over inside of three days exemplified the gap between the two sides, and to what extent the host team was above the visitors.
The whitewash must serve as a pointed eye opener for the Sri Lankan camp to reassess and work on their weaknesses and take necessary corrective measures if they are to com to terms on fast and bouncy tear-away pitches that are tailor made havens to fast bowling demons. Gone are the days when Sri Lanka was in its infancy of the ICC Test fold. Three and a half decades in to the fold of the harsh grinds of test cricket, the clarion call in modern day’s high tech science era of the game is adaptation to the very extreme demands wherever you play where no quarter is given nor asked for. True, Sri Lanka is on a new generation rebuilding curve following retirement of longtime senior players. But the fact of the matter is that there is an abounding talent in the young talent the selectors have placed faith in, and the young brigade is apparently in a great need of been put through the mill where paramount is professional expertise tutelage.
There the onus heavily lies on the coaching apparatus led by the Head Coach in the South African born Graham Ford who is well versed on South African terrain and the players. Sri Lanka did have a fair preparation leverage ahead of the test series to acclimatise, and their inability to come to terms with the opposition is a factor for autopsy, and to what extent the coaching manuals prevailed in inculcating the discipline and commitment to do battle in the extreme of conditions. Clearly, half hearted stroke play gifting their wickets has been the biggest bane to the inability to mount countering totals to match the opposition. In a tailor-made setting where bowlers give away little, commitment is the name of the game. This basic factor has apparently been a lonely word to the Sri Lankan front-line batsmen guilty of halfhearted stroke play. Indeed, Head Coach Ford does have a plateful on his hands to essentially inculcate in the batsmen to put their heads down and play the ball on its merits cutting off the rash stuff.
By Srian Obeyesekere
-The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Sri Lanka Cricket-