South Africa have been gunned down in 13 of their 16 ODIs in Sri Lanka so their brains trust were in no doubt about the daunting task lying ahead of them as they set off for the sub-continental island yesterday.
The Proteas’ tour of Sri Lanka starts with three ODIs from next Sunday, followed by two Tests in Galle and Colombo. South Africa have won two and lost four of the 10 Tests they have played there, so it’s a tough place to tour across the board.
“Sri Lanka know their conditions well and they’re very dangerous at home, especially in the short formats. They’ve done very well in ODIs and T20s in the last five years,” ODI captain AB de Villiers acknowledged yesterday.
“The heat is stifling so even though a place like Hambantota offers more pace and bounce, your fast bowlers have to bowl shorter spells. At Colombo, Galle and Kandy, spin comes into play so that suits their attack.
“And batting in Sri Lanka is anything but easy. There’s turn and the pitches are abrasive so there’s also reverse-swing. And sometimes there’s a bit of movement with the new ball as well, especially at night,” coach Russell Domingo said.
“It’s a tough place to tour because of the conditions and Sri Lanka are playing pretty well at the moment,” Test captain Hashim Amla acknowledged.
Notwithstanding those dire warnings, Domingo said the results at the end of their previous trip to Sri Lanka, when the newly-appointed coach steered them to a 2-1 triumph in the T20 series last August, encouraged him.
“The way we finished last year – we won the T20s which was the first time we had won a shorter-format series over there – showed us what we could achieve over there. It was a strange tour last year, there were a lot of disruptions and injuries. There was no Dale Steyn nor Jacques Kallis and Hashim missed a couple of games as well.”
The return of Kallis will please De Villiers as it will give him much more solidity in the batting line-up, as well as another experienced, proven seam bowler in testing conditions for pacemen.
A top six of Amla, De Kock, Kallis, De Villiers, Duminy and Miller engenders confidence and South Africa will also be taking a better attack to Sri Lanka than last year. Steyn, Morkel, Philander, Kallis, McLaren, Parnell and Hendricks provide a better mix of consistency and striking ability, while Imran Tahir, always a factor on the sub-continent, is likely to be the first-choice spinner.
“Imran had a wonderful 2011 World Cup in similar conditions. He’s an attacking bowler and I’d like to see him get game time and get his confidence going ahead of the Tests,” De Villiers said.
Sri Lanka is the heartland of attacking spinners, however, and Amla said the Proteas will be particularly wary of the unassuming, orthodox left-armer Rangana Herath, fresh from a wonderful tour of England.
“We’ve always viewed Herath as a very good bowler, especially if the pitches are turning. He has a lot of experience and, no disrespect to their seamers, he will be Sri Lanka’s key bowler,” Amla said.
In little more than seven-and-a-half months, South Africa will be involved in another World Cup campaign and Domingo said it is crucial he starts to build confidence within the squad.
“There are still 26 ODIs before the World Cup, so it’s quite a lot of cricket, but we want to get to Australasia with confidence, we want to be one of the teams to beat. We want to get ourselves higher on the rankings. This group is pretty close to what we’ll take to the World Cup,” Domingo said.
The coach said South Africa are likely to play one specialist spinner and JP Duminy in the Tests, leaving the number seven position open for a frontline batsman like Stiaan van Zyl or Quinton de Kock, or another pace bowler with Vernon Philander capable of moving up the order.
“It’s a tough decision and we’ll have to see what conditions are like. But we will always play one frontline spinner and JP, who I see as a frontline spinner anyway. So we have both bases covered – the extra seamer as well as an orthodox off-spinner [Duminy], a young, exciting offie who can bowl the doosra [Dane Piedt] and a leg-spinner [Tahir]. It’s highly unlikely that we’ll play all three of those,” Domingo explained.