Why Proteas MAY show stiffer spine

2018-07-17 12:35
Vernon Philander (Gallo)

Cape Town – Whether they can force a win to split the series is another matter, but there is some reason to believe that South Africa should at least be infinitely more resilient in the second Test against Sri Lanka at Colombo SSC from Friday.

Beaten in what seemed the blink of an eyelid at Galle a few days ago, the Sinhalese Sports Club should be a slightly kinder surface for batting, even if spinners – an art that is bamboozling the Proteas more often than many would like these days – still tend to do an awful lot of the bowling there.

So yes, there will be certain, lingering demons to wrestle.

But it is also the venue where Faf du Plessis and company fought extremely tigerishly on the last tour of Sri Lanka, in 2014, to earn a critical draw that ensured a praiseworthy 1-0 mini-series outcome in their favour.

They won no special prizes for entertainment value at the crease in that Test, their combined run tempo over the two knocks coming in at well less than two to the over, but they also – decisively – saw off a vast number of overs and often with plenty of men lurking around the bat.

It was 134.5 in their first innings of 282, and then another 111 as their second innings (the key fourth of the match, having been set an essentially nominal target of 369 to win) ended on a funereal but gritty 159 for eight for the satisfying stalemate.

A defiant Vernon Philander (27 not out off 98 deliveries) and the not exactly Bradman-like for technique Imran Tahir were the batsmen clinging on at the crease when stumps were drawn.

Considering his similar tenacity with the blade in the first-Test devastation last weekend, that performance four years back seems just another reason why the Proteas need to think long and hard before any possibility of sitting out bustling seamer “SuperVern” in the upcoming clash.

There have been suggestions Philander make way (either for an extra specialist batsman or additional spinner) simply on the grounds that he bowled a modest tally of overs in Galle, but perhaps people also forget that even if he is not striking often in the wickets column on benign surfaces he is a usually a decent runs-limiter.

If South Africa do retain Philander, as they frankly should, then they are likely to field more than half of the troops who took part in that determined rear-guard action in the corresponding last Test of 2014.

Du Plessis, Dean Elgar, Hashim Amla, Quinton de Kock, Philander and Dale Steyn were all on duty at Colombo SSC then, with the currently rather out-of-sorts Amla making a patient first-innings 139 not out at a sedate strike rate of 36.

The nucleus of Sri Lanka’s 400-plus total after batting first came through legendary Mahela Jayawardene’s 165; he has now retired from international combat.

Nevertheless, the 2014 meeting was also marked by the huge volume of overs sent down by the very same spinners who got so badly beneath SA skins at Galle over the last few days – Rangana Herath and Dilruwan Perera.

Few other ‘Lankan bowlers even got into a proper stride, really, as Herath registered 45-17-71-4 and 45-30-40-5 respectively, and Perera 41.5-11-69-5 and 44-24-60-3.

That is true “blisters for bread” stuff.

Of course the Proteas will have to adopt a more positive approach on this occasion as they go into the Test trailing rather than leading the series this time and a draw would do nothing more than ensure Sri Lanka can’t clean-sweep it.

With that in mind, it isn’t the worst thing for South Africa to know that the last four Tests at the ground have produced results.

The host nation have won two of those Tests (Australia, Pakistan), while also being beaten twice there by Subcontinent rivals India.

But the previous quartet of Test matches, by contrast, were all stalemates – including the Proteas’ aforementioned brave battle for the minimum outcome they needed in 2014.

South Africa’s overall record at the Sinhalese Sports Club from five Tests is one victory, two draws and two losses.

Unfortunately the lone triumph is from the most distant game – on their maiden tour of Sri Lanka in 1993.

On that occasion, with the fiery pace duo of Allan Donald and Brett Schultz to the fore, they prevailed at the ground by an innings and 208 runs.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing


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