South Africa’s 5-0 ODI clean sweep of Sri Lanka is a hard to digest result in a scenario of a plaguing injury sidelining of regular skipper Angelo Mathews and stand in Test captain and ODI vice captain Dinesh Chandimal losing his place. For the duo are trump card stuff on which the island nation’s cricket forward drive had shaped up fronting up as prime new generation torch bearers. Of course, trumping South Africa in their own backyard was from the very start a tall order given the superior player advantage the host country enjoyed even before a ball was bowled. Going in to the over month long T20, Test and ODI contests that South Africa had a professionally ingrained string of old horses in Hashim Amla, A.B. de Villiers, Dumminy and F. U. de Plessis and Wayne Parnell meant that a literally young blood Sri Lankan casting was on a knocking the head on rock assignment; and, further carrying the Mathews handicap.
If the tour exchanges were a number one deriving status booster for South Africa, from a Sri Lankan point of view here was an essentially by necessity a new cast but for a handful of veterans like Rangana Herath, Upul Tharanga and Nuwan Kulasekera and Dinesh Chandimal. Sri Lanka also had to contend with extreme home condition exploitation by South Africa such as the substantial covering of live grass on the first morning particularly in the Test series with most of the limited-overs surfaces made to order to their liking that drew post-tour displeasure aired by Sri Lanka’s Chairman of Selectors, Sanath Jayasuriya. All in all, it was an experience fronting in the stated rebuilding curve of Sri Lankan cricket following veteran player retirements. That Sri Lanka did well to coral the strong South Africans 2-1 in the 3-match T20 series was satisfying for the once world champions particularly in that it was a late rally reign in after being led 2-1. Of course, in the lost cause in cricket’s two most taxing of forms of the Test and ODI stakes, there are the positives for Sri Lanka to derive from. Individual high points like Upul Tharanga’s ascension from semi recognition as a stop gap player in performance stock raising in reverting to his once customary opening slot on the back of an exhilarating century was rewarding fodder for the Sri Lankan establishment. That he has breathed a semblance of solid promise up front there at a juncture where the selectors are still grappling with putting solidness up there in the most demanding area in both forms of the game is certainly a ‘Good Cheer’ factor. For, there has been cause for concern in the Test opener slots with the duo of Dimuth Karunaratne and Kaushal Silva failing to come to good measure. In the bowling, spinner Lakshan Sandakan did stamp himself as worthy stuff for the future.
The individual performances of Niroshan Dickwella who was consistent with the bat, and colts Asela Gunaratne, who displayed continued promise with the bat capped with a fine back to the wall century in the final ODI, and Sandun Weerakkody who also carved a plucky half century in the previous game are individual plus points in team building process of the batting department. This is particularly so considering that Dickwella and Gunaratne were overlooked for Test duty, and apparently got the nod following a let down by the top order. Of course, the blooding process is long drawn, and the young cast must learn from their mistakes with more exposure. In the batting, a marked drawback has been the lack of footwork particularly in stepping out of the crease. One of the best exponents in that area was former captain cum opening batsman Marvan Atapattu who was a treat to watch dancing down the wicket to thrash bowlers. Dhananjaya de Silva has displayed flair to use his feet unfazed, and his failure to come good in South Africa could apparently have been by shifting him from the middle order to No.3. The slotting of batsmen especially of colts has to be carefully handled as it could be an undoing factor to rush them here and there.
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-