Angelo Mathews spoke about the need for the Sri Lankans to be mentally tough when they meet South Africa in the second of three Tests, starting at Newlands in Cape Town on Monday (January 2), but hinted that there was need for some changes in personnel.
In losing the first Test in Port Elizabeth by 206 runs, Sri Lanka showed weaknesses in both the batting and the bowling departments. While South Africa looked certain to go into the match with an unchanged playing XI, Mathews admitted there would be debate in the Sri Lankan camp about the composition of their side.
Kusal Perera’s role as an attacking No. 3 batsman could come in for particular scrutiny after he was out for seven and six in Port Elizabeth, playing ill-judged cut shots on both occasions.
But with Perera having been compared to Sanath Jayasuriya, on whom he has based his game, Mathews said he would not like to see the young left-hander abandon his attacking instincts, even though slashing at South Africa’s pace on pitches with pace and bounce “wasn’t the right game plan”.
Mathews didn’t hint at penalising Perera with the sack, but acknowledged that Upul Tharanga, a more conservative left-hander, was an option as “he can bat from one to seven”.
Whereas, in subcontinental conditions, Sri Lanka usually base their bowling attack on spin, they had to opt for three pace bowlers and only one specialist spinner in Rangana Herath in the first Test. Suranga Lakmal bowled well, taking five wickets in the first innings, but the pacers seldom threatened in the second innings, when South Africa declared on 406 for 6.
Dushmantha Chameera was disappointing, taking only one wicket in the match and conceding 153 runs at more than five runs an over.
Mathews indicated, however, that Chameera could be given another chance. “He is coming back from injury,” said Mathews. “He has not got his rhythm back but he can do better in the second Test.”
There has been an extended period of hot, dry weather in Cape Town, but the pitch was still likely to offer more pace and bounce than Port Elizabeth, although spinners could play a role later in the match.
An option for Sri Lanka might be to play to their traditional strength by picking two spinners, with Dilruwan Perera, the offspinner, coming into the side and strengthening the tail.
Newlands has been a fortress for the South African team, which has won 19 of the 29 Tests played there since 1993, with their only four defeats all coming against Australia.
The New Year Test is traditionally the biggest occasion in South African cricket and the ground is sold out for the first day. Coming on the back of a series victory in Australia last month and a convincing win in Port Elizabeth, South Africa would be favourites to wrap up the three-match series, whether or not Sri Lanka ring in the changes.
South Africa (likely): Faf du Plessis (capt), Stephen Cook, Dean Elgar, Hashim Amla, JP Duminy, Temba Bavuma, Quinton de Kock (wk), Vernon Philander, Keshav Maharaj, Kyle Abbott, Kagiso Rabada.
Sri Lanka (from): Angelo Mathews (capt), Dinesh Chandimal (wk), Kusal Mendis, Kusal Perera, Dimuth Karunaratne, Kaushal Silva, Dhananjaya de Silva, Upul Tharanga, Dilruwan Perera, Rangana Herath, Lahiru Kumara, Nuwan Pradeep, Dushmantha Chameera, Suranga Lakmal, Vikum Sanjaya.