Before this series, South Africa’s lowest total in Sri Lanka had been 169. On this tour, they have now crashed to 126, 73 and 124 – a grand total of 323 runs, in a series in which opposition opener Dimuth Karuanaratne, by himself, has made 330 (and counting). Staring at a 2-0 whitewash two days into the second Test, South Africa are still at a loss as to how it all went so horribly wrong, but the only thing they know for sure, is that right now, it hurts.
“We’ve got very capable batsmen – world class batsmen – in our dressing room, and they are hurting at the moment because they haven’t performed to the level that we expect in Sri Lanka,” South Africa coach Ottis Gibson said. “In the past, Hashim Amla and Dean Elgar especially have got runs here. We got a couple of new faces as well as youngsters getting their first or second taste of subcontinent cricket, trying to understand what’s it all about. But you could put up your hands and say that Sri Lanka in these conditions are too good for us.”
South Africa will have to bat last in this Test, and are already 365 runs in arrears, with Sri Lanka likely to grow their lead beyond 400 on the third morning. With the pitch taking significant turn, South Africa’s is almost a hopeless situation – no team has ever successfully chased down over 400 on the island. With victory virtually out of reach, and a draw unlikely with three days to play, what is left to play for is pride, Gibson said.
“That’s one of the things that we talk about – making sure that we play for pride, because when we left home we came here full of pride, and full of optimism and ambition, hoping we can do well in the series. It hasn’t worked out. I would like to think that the guys who haven’t performed up to now would look at is as one more opportunity whenever the Lankans are bowled out or they have declared. And that they try and bat as long as we can and see what we can get out the game still.
“The one thing that I picked up very early when I came to South Africa was what it meant to represent the Proteas. I will still be drawing on that in the dressing room tomorrow to say that the thing about the Proteas is that we fight till the very end, and that’s what we are going to do for the duration of the game.”
Among other South Africa hopes that haven’t quite panned out in Sri Lanka, was the expectation that the seamers could get wickets via reverse spin. Of the 13 Sri Lanka wickets to have fallen in this Test, only one went to a South Africa quick – with the visitors playing three fast bowlers in their XI, with only one frontline spinner in tow. In Galle too, reverse swing had failed to play the role it often does for South Africa, on tours of Asia, but the team had still felt that banking on pace and reverse swing was the right call, over playing two spinners.
“We played two spinners in Galle and we got 20 wickets, but we didn’t make enough runs and we felt the batting was a bit short,” Gibson said. “So we thought we’d play an extra batsman. Looking at the surface before the game it looked a lot more abrasive than the Galle surface, and we felt we’d get a bit of reverse swing, so we backed our seamers.”