South Africa will be seeking to bounce back in the second Test against Sri Lanka, starting at St George’s Park today, after Kusal Perera’s heroics handed them a chastening defeat in the first Test.
Perera became a national hero in Sri Lanka after scoring an unbeaten 153 in Durban to guide his country to a sensational first Test victory in South Africa.
Although it was Perera who stole the headlines in the team’s dramatic one-wicket win, the rest of the players rose to rookie captain Dimuth Karunaratne’s challenge to “compete in every session”.
With Sri Lanka having a largely unheralded bowling attack, it seems South Africa seriously under-estimated their opponents. In consequence, South Africa are likely to have a change of strategy after going into the Durban match with a four-pronged pace attack as well as spinner Keshav Maharaj. It left them with only six recognised batsmen.
Left-arm swing bowler Vishwa Fernando and debutant left-arm spinner Lasith Embuldeniya took eight and six wickets respectively while South Africa’s batsmen struggled, with the exception of captain Faf Du Plessis and Quinton de Kock.
Du Plessis admitted in Durban that South Africa’s batting had been disappointing. It seems certain that the hosts will include an extra batsman, either Theunis de Bruyn or Zubayr Hamza, while a more conventional mix of three fast bowlers and a spinner seems probable.
South Africa could also re-think their policy of short-pitched bowling against Asian opponents. It did not work in Durban and the surface in Port Elizabeth also tends to lack the pace and bounce of other South African venues.
Before the Durban Test, Du Plessis was talking about his team’s long-term goal of closing the gap on number one-ranked India in the world Test rankings.
If, as had been expected, South Africa had disposed of their sixth-ranked opponents by winning both Tests, South Africa would have closed the gap on India to four points.
Now, the best they can do is share the series, ending a streak of seven successive home series wins. Even if they win in Port Elizabeth they will drop two points further behind India – and if they lose or draw they will fall behind New Zealand, currently in third place.
South Africa have won five and drawn one of their most recent six Tests at St George’s Park, including a 206-run win over Sri Lanka in two seasons ago.
Last season, after losing the first Test in Durban, South Africa turned the series against Australia around with a convincing six-wicket win in Port Elizabeth.
Kagiso Rabada, who had a poor first Test against Sri Lanka, will be returning to the ground where he took 11 wickets against Australia.
Philander ruled out
of second Test
Opening bowler Vernon Philander has been ruled out of the Test. South African coach Ottis Gibson said Philander, who did not bowl in the second innings of Sri Lanka’s one-wicket win in Durban last weekend, had a grade one hamstring tear, which would keep him out of action for 10 to 12 days.
Gibson said uncapped all-rounder Wiaan Mulder would be considered as a “like for like” replacement, depending on conditions.
Gibson defended South Africa’s tactics during a world record last wicket winning stand of 78 between Kusal Perera, who made 153 not out, and number 11, Vishwa Fernando.
“I didn’t see that happening, to be honest,” said Gibson of his team’s defeat, “but credit has to go to them, particularly Perera.
“I thought our tactics were spot on. We threw everything at him and he withstood all of that. We tried spin, we bowled over the wicket, we bowled around the wicket, we bounced him, we tried to york him.
“He rode his luck early on but then he settled down. That’s the nature of sport. When somebody has a day like that, when it happens to you it’s tough to take but you have to give him credit for the way he played.”
Gibson said there was no talk of revenge as South Africa tried to square the two-match series.
“There’s no focus on revenge, our focus is on playing a little bit better,” he said.
South Africa (from): Faf du Plessis (capt), Dean Elgar, Aiden Markram, Hashim Amla, Temba Bavuma, Theunis de Bruyn, Zubayr Hamza, Quinton de Kock (wkt), Wiaan Mulder, Vernon Philander, Keshav Maharaj, Kagiso Rabada, Dale Steyn, Duanne Olivier.
Sri Lanka (likely): Dimuth Karunaratne (capt), Lahiru Thirimanne, Kusal Mendis, Oshada Fernando, Kusal Perera, Niroshan Dickwella (wkt), Dhananjaya de Silva, Suranga Lakmal, Lasith Embuldeniya, Kasun Rajitha, Vishwa Fernando.
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