Johannesburg - Former Transvaal and Proteas wicketkeeper Nic Pothas says his countrymen are right to expect the pitches to heavily favour spin in their two-test series against Sri Lanka, which begins in Galle on Thursday.
Having suffered badly at the hands of India on underprepared surfaces a couple of seasons ago, the Proteas have telegraphed their apprehension of another trial by spin when they go back to the subcontinent, and have picked three spinners to make sure they have plenty of options.
Pothas, who was Sri Lanka’s fielding consultant until the beginning of the year but is now in Antigua as the West Indies’ assistant coach, said the Proteas were right to expect spin to dominate proceedings.
“Wherever you go in the world, people play to their strengths. If you go to South Africa, you get bouncy pitches. I expect the wickets to spin and for them to make Galle spin.
“This will be Rangana Herath’s last stint in Sri Lanka, so they’ll try to make it a memorable one for him.
“Also, with the pace attack South Africa has, they’ll try to make the wickets as flat as possible. It’s hot in Sri Lanka and the fast bowlers will have to bowl in short spells, so they will need spin.”
Pothas said the Proteas had reached out to him to pick his brains on what to expect.
“I had a long chat with [Proteas batting coach] Dale Benkenstein two months ago and, without divulging what they’re planning, their thinking is sound. The Sri Lankans can make the conditions very severe – if spin doesn’t open the bowling in the first innings, expect it to in the second.”
With regards to the Sri Lankan team itself, Pothas said he wasn’t sure how they would cope if their captain Dinesh Chandimal and coach Chandika Hathurusingha were found guilty and banned for delaying play for two hours in the West Indies after the former was embroiled in a ball-tampering controversy, a level three spirit of cricket offence that carries a two-match ban.
The hearing is on Tuesday and the two would be banned for the series if the ICC decides not to be lenient.
“I think that, when you take away one of the best batsmen – and Kusal Mendis and Chandimal are their two best test batsmen – it’s going to affect the team,” Pothas said.
“But with regards to whether it will affect the chemistry of the team, I’m not sure.”
Pothas said that, although the Sri Lankan batsmen were exposed for their inability to play fast bowling in South Africa early last year, the Proteas should expect them to be 25% better in their own conditions, with Mendis the wicket the visitors should covet.
“He’s world class and they have to look after him in these conditions. He’s going to be one of the legends of the game, he’s a seriously good player.”
Pothas also singled out Roshen Silva and Dimuth Karunaratne as batsmen to watch for their “rare” ability in Sri Lanka to play quick bowling well, with a sting in the tail in the shape of the diminutive Niroshan Dickwella.
“You haven’t gone through that batting line-up if you haven’t got Dickwella out,” said Pothas about a player close to his confrontational heart.
“He thinks clearly under pressure, which is unusual for a young guy, and he keeps the scoreboard ticking.
“He’s the one guy I always say I’d take to war with me; he’s a feisty little guy who doesn’t take a step backward. He’s had run-ins everywhere, even in India. He’s one of the loveliest guys you’ll meet off the field, until you push him.”
Pothas said his old mate from his time in Sri Lanka, the 40-year-old Herath, was still the main threat in the hosts’ bowling attack.
“The scoreboard doesn’t really move when he’s bowling. He bowls stumps to stumps and he’s got three modes of dismissal with one that turns and one that doesn’t.
“You don’t get to be one of the best left-arm spinners in history without being good, so he’s threat number one,” Pothas said.
“Suranga Lakmal is threat number two because he asks so many questions when opening the bowling. [Fast bowler] Lahiru Kumara has improved out of sight, but he shouldn’t be as big a threat.”