From the press box ( at the Pavilion End) Sri Lanka v South Africa, Galle , July 2013

Strength in Depth Gives South Africa the Edge

In Sri Lanka by Bill Ricquier

On an attritional day of old- fashioned Test cricket South Africa put themselves in a position from which it is almost inconceivable that they could lose the first Test at the Galle International Stadium and it might be possible for them to win it. This represents a very considerable improvement on their first day’s efforts when the failures of their two best batsmen, Hashim Amla and AB de Villiers , seemed to have left them with a mountain to climb on the second . But the Proteas are never to be underestimated. The lower order succeeded to the extent of taking the first innings total from 268 for five in 91 overs on the first day to 455 for 9 declared. Now there are not many Test sides that could do that.

That South Africa managed it owed a very considerable amount to a remarkable innings by the cultured left hander J P Duminy. Coming in at number eight when night watchman Dale Steyn was bowled by Suranga Lakmal for 3 and with the score on 290 for six Duminy batted with calm, patience, style and authority for 261 minutes and 206 balls making exactly 100 not out and hitting ten mainly exquisite boundaries. There were sweeps – one astonishingly fine off Rangana Herath between the keeper and backward short leg – and a number of reverse sweeps. And he was not afraid to clobber it when the mood took him smiting Herath over long on when he got fed up with being tied down in the seventies. Duminy – unlike the more rugged Quinton de Kock, say, is a ” touch ” player , ,many of his runs coming from glides and deflections .

It was of course slow going . South Africa were criticized for scoring slowly on the first day when Dean Elgar ‘s 103 was made at a strike rate of 55 , which seems positively skittish compared to Duminy’s of 48. But of course circumstances were different . There was a feeling that South Africa having won the toss should have been more proactive on the first day . The situation was different on the second day: the best option for them now was just to bat for as long as possible while conditions for batting remained relatively good, almost irrespective of how many runs they scored. In this endeavour they succeeded triumphantly.

In the beginning it was de Kock who caught the eye, another left hander with a considerable reputation in one day cricket . Like many smallish left handers , he is immensely stong on the off side: maybe the bowlers thought that in fact he had a weakness there . Anyway most of his runs seemed to come through the covers or slightly streakily through the slips. He was eventually dismissed by Dilruwan Perera just after reaching his first Test fifty: it was a classic off spinner’s dismissal, sharp turn finding the edge and the rest being done by the inevitable Mahela Jayawardene at slip.

That was 314 for seven. Well, it must have been tempting to think, now we’re really down to the tail. Except that South Africa does not really have a tail. Vernon Philander in particular is a very accomplished performer with the bat , as he now proceeded to show , making 27 in 96 balls and adding 75 with Duminy for the eighth wicket.

The bowlers stuck to their task manfully. Shaminda Eranga was still unfit so Angelo Mathews’ options were pretty limited; he rang the changes as best he could and bowled a bit more himself. Indeed it was he who trapped Philander in front with a full length iInswinger : 399 for 8 shortly before tea,

The surprise package was Morne Morkel. If you wanted to spend a day watching left handlers you could hardly get three more different ones than Duminy, de Kock and Morkel. Duminy is all ease and style, de Kock is bristling aggression. The large and slightly lumbering Morkel crouches over his little bat like a blacksmith over his anvil. But one must give Morkel his due, he stuck to his guns and helped Duminy add 66 for the ninth wicket,

Tension – if you could call it that on another rather soporific day – gradually increased as it became clear that Duminy might get a hundred if Mirkel could stay with him. He almost didn’t get there, being dropped by Perera at mid off off Herath on 83. But he did get there with a swept single off Perera, Morkel joined in the celebrations , launching an enormous heave at Perera’s next delivery and being bowled. Amla immediately declared leaving Sri Lanka 12 overs to bat.

These were successfully negotiated by Kaushal Silva and Upul Tharanga, not without alarms. Steyn was fast and bouncy, Philander tight and always threatening, Morkel generating awkward bounce . Tharanga played some fluent shots but it was Silva – compact , organized, idiosyncratic – who gave a real impression of permanence. Pressure was eased by the introduction of Imran Tahir who served up a collection of half volleys and full tosses which both batsmen gratefully received, . It was 30 for no loss at stumps.

So the third day and especially the first session will be critical to the outcome of the match. If they can get through that relatively unscathed, losing no more than one or two wickets, Sri Lanka should be safe. And of course they are vastly experienced in these conditions. But the pitch is already deteriorating; Duminy’ s hundred was not an easy one . And Steyn, Philander , Morkel and , yes , Tahir too, are formidable opponents.

Bill Ricquier 17/7 2014

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