Lankans to find SA too spicy

2011-11-23 12:58
Graeme Smith (Gallo)
Comment: Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer

Cape Town – A glance at the Sri Lankan Test squad named this week to tour South Africa only confirms that, weather-permitting, the Proteas really must set their sights on a 3-0 clean sweep.

It is not an unrealistic expectation, especially as Graeme Smith’s side are under real pressure now to string together a consistent run of Test-match victories at home after too many seasons of costly, all too fitful bouts of excellence.

And if the time has come for the Proteas to get mean, then the Lankans, I’m afraid, look appropriately like lambs to the slaughter.

Hopefully suitably chastened by the failure to beat unsettled Australia, South Africa have ground to make up after simultaneously dropping a notch to No 3 spot on the ICC Test rankings; not the ideal step in their quest to haul in England at the top of the present pile.

As much as ever, though, the Test landscape is looking stubbornly like a two-tiered affair, with England, India, South Africa and Australia in the “super league” – currently all with ratings under the ICC system of over 100 – and then Sri Lanka in fifth heading up, with due respect, the various also-rans.

They have just come off a 1-0 reverse to Pakistan in the neutral United Arab Emirates, and were also beaten 1-0 at home weeks earlier in a three-Test series against the very side the Proteas have just shared the spoils with.

Sri Lanka will not represent a complete stroll in the park for the South Africans at, respectively, Centurion, Kingsmead and Newlands, as they have certain indisputably world-class individuals and, when they last toured England earlier this year, had plenty of tenacious moments despite another series defeat.

But their big drawback in visiting these shores next month is a dangerous lack on wisdom on conditions here, with the Proteas presumably not shy to seek reasonably typical tracks that give meaningful aid to their pace arsenal.

Sri Lanka’s last of three Test trips to South Africa was as far back as 2002/03 – they have lost each time, and sport a total of six reverses and a draw in seven Tests here – and as a result they will bring a largely naive 16-man squad.

Only three from their ranks – their kingpin Test batsmen Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene, plus recalled fast bowler Dilhara Fernando – have ever been involved in prior five-day combat in South Africa.

And even the two, blue-chip batsmen, who have often enough provided massive heartbreak to South African bowlers on the benign Lankan pitches, are hardly veterans when it comes to dealing with the completely different demands of our tracks.

Sangakkara, for instance, may boast 103 Test caps and an average of 56.93, but he has only played a miserly five of those in South Africa, at a shade under 40. 

Of course this will also be the first time that Sri Lanka tour here without a certain, 800-wicket Muttiah Muralitharan, the great off-spinner who could pretty much keep one end occupied all day in Test matches during his glittering 18-year career.

It is not as though a pace department containing Messrs Fernando, Welegedara, Pradeep and Lakmal is going to automatically preclude South African groundsmen from leaving a little green tinge here and there on Test pitches.

Certainly this far out from the series, I tip a hot summer for the Lankans, and it will have nothing to do with the weather.

The high stakes for South Africa from a collective performance point of view hardly help the tourists, either ...

Read more on:    graeme smith

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