Sri Lanka’s Graham Ford has chosen underdog status ahead of his team’s tour of South Africa.
Sri Lanka, who arrive on Sunday for three Tests (starting on the 26th in Port Elizabeth), three T20 internationals and five one-day internationals (ODIs), have had a good run of late.
In their last two Test series, they beat Australia 3-0 (at home) and Zimbabwe 2-0 (in Zimbabwe) before winning an ODI Tri-Series, including against the West Indies, in that country.
Yet numbers have not caused Ford, who is in his second stint as Sri Lanka coach, to dream big:
“If you look over the years, South Africa have been pretty dominant against all comers at home and have been dominant against Sri Lanka, too.
"The South African side have played well recently and went to Australia and beat them in Australia.
We beat Australia in Sri Lanka and conditions are different on the subcontinent. The conditions in South Africa will be like the conditions in Australia.”
Ford was keen to see how his young charges progress in South Africa after a promising new start under him, especially now that regular captain Angelo Mathews and Dinesh Chandimal are back after injuries.
“We’ve gone through a rebuilding phase and have some newish faces who did well against Australia. It’s a test of how much progress we’ve made.
“Obviously, nobody involved in the game tries not to win every game, but, at the same time, if we play competitively, we’ll be happy. If we’re competitive, if batsmen post Test scores and bowlers build pressure...”
The former Proteas and Natal coach bemoaned the big gap left by batsmen Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene’s retirement: “Everybody in our camp has come to terms with that so there’s no point talking about it.
"At the same time, you don’t replace a Sangakkara or a Jayawardene. It’s not only their scores, it’s their knowledge, their support and their ability to change momentum in certain games.”
He was not keen to anoint batting double replacements:
“I’m keen to see how the whole group goes. I’m excited about how the youngsters have done, but I don’t want to single out anyone because it was all done in Sri Lankan conditions. Hopefully, they can do the same here.”
Zimbabwean head coach Makhaya Ntini, whose team was handed two defeats, both by more than 200 runs, in their recent Test series, said:
“They’re a developing young team, but they believe in themselves. Guys like [Dhananjaya] de Silva and [Kusal] Perera are boulders of the team. If the Proteas can get past them, they can destroy them. But they’re very capable of frustrating even good teams like South Africa.”
Ford could not explain how Rangana Herath, who is now 38, appears to be getting better with age.
Herath, who played in Muttiah Muralitharan’s shadow, has now taken 351 Test wickets and seven 10-fers, with a 19-wicket haul from the two-match series against Zimbabwe.
He said: “It’s hard to say why. He’s unbelievably skilful, a very smart customer and a wonderful bloke who’s also very humble. But he forms an important part of our leadership group. Why has he been so successful?
"I guess because he has no release delivery for the batsman and has the ability to beat the bat on both sides, which is incredibly important these days.”
Ntini offered a solution to dealing with the greying left-arm orthodox spinner:
“He’s the kind of bowler you need to go after and not allow to settle on his lengths. If you do, he’ll destroy you. He has very good variation of quicker ones and a slower one that turns more than the others.”
Sri Lanka play a three-day warm-up game against the SA Invitation XI on Sunday.