By Dawid (the South African)
The third test between South Africa and Sri Lanka starts tomorrow and, somewhat surprisingly, promises to be an important match for both teams with the series tied at one-all. Most experts (both actual and entirely self-proclaimed like myself) expected South Africa to win the second test in the same comfortable manner as they did the first. But as any self-respecting Sri Lankan should know by now, that is not at all how it turned out. Instead Sri Lanka completely dominated the game, breaking all kinds of records and causing a number of “experts” to eat several helpings of humble pie.
Sri Lanka were in control almost from the start and they’ve seemingly found the blueprint for future success; let their strong batting line-up rack up big totals and then just maintain the pressure with accurate, disciplined bowling. In particular Samaraweera and Sangakarra showed that the Sri Lankan middle order is still world class (with wicketkeeper batsman Dinesh Chandimal showing great promise with two aggressive innings). The Sri Lankan bowling still won’t be giving any opposition sides sleepless nights (though Rangana Herath did an excellent job given slightly more favourable conditions than the first test), but they showed that they can bowl an opposition out twice if the batsman give them something to defend.
Of course it’s not likely that the Sri Lankan side have suddenly transformed themselves from an average team to an all-conquering juggernaut. While their performance was excellent and the confidence they will take from the game is invaluable, the South Africans did make their job much easier than it should have been.
The South African bowling was patchy at best, while their batting was, for the most part, downright horrific. Even as a South African fan that has suffered great emotional distress at the hands of his own team (and essentially lost the capacity for hope), I found this performance hard to stomach. The South African batting line up seems to collapse at the mere mention of the word “pressure”, and it’s pretty clear that the downward spiral of choking is just getting worse. But I’ll spare everyone my (as yet unwritten and unpublished) 5,000 page essay on all the things the South Africans did wrong in this game and all the players that should be dropped.
One of the beauties of cricket, much like virtually every branch of the social sciences, is that there are enough statistics to “justifiy” virtually any occurence or point of view. So, rather than facing up to the reality that South Africa will soon require a group of sport psychologists larger than the team itself, I’ll prefer to justify the loss (and give a positivie view of the future) using potentially arbitrary statistics.
South Africa have lost the previous 4 tests they’ve played in Durban (generally starting on Boxing Day); quite amazing given that during the same period they only lost a single test away from home (and proof that South African captain Graeme Smith has not had a happy New Year’s Eve since graduating university). In Cape Town, where the third test is to be played, however, South Africa haven’t lost in their last 5 test matches.
From these stats it’s clear that the South African team will come roaring back in the third Test in the schizophrenic way that only they can. Probably. Or they might continue their amazing feat of not winning a home test series since 2008 despite being ranked in the top 3 in the world throughout the period.
In short, the match could go either way. Expect the Cape Town pitch to favour fast bowling, much like the previous match played there where Australia were bowled out for 47 (though the warm, dry weather this time of year should result in it being significantly flatter). My hunch is that South Africa will take it with the in form Vernon Philander coming back into the team, but that the more confident Sri Lankans will fight hard.
Predictions aside, it’s clear that we should all look forward to the match and be happy that the series has turned out to be much more exciting and intriguing than it was generally expected to be.