Gibbs gives South Africa pause for thought
The wretched form of Herschelle Gibbs leaves South Africa facing a serious selection dilemma as they try to lift themselves out of a rut - a losing run that stretches back seven games - and keep alive their series hopes in Dambulla on Wednesday.
Gibbs, a surefire selection for so long, is in danger of being axed, as Graeme Smith, South Africa's frustrated captain, admitted after the team's morning practice session on Tuesday. But Smith also hinted that Gibbs's matchwinning qualities could save him from the guillotine for the time being.
Gibbs's problems started with an ankle injury, sustained in Pretoria before the tour. It kept him out of the first practice game and the first Test. Then, after he worked feverishly to regain his full fitness, his early-season rustiness was clinically exploited by Sri Lanka's new-ball bowlers in the second Test.
After failures in the first two matches of this one-day series, including a ghastly swipe that left his stumps splayed in the second game, he has a total of 11 runs from four visits to the crease. Two boundaries may be enough for him to regain his touch, but Martin van Jaarsveld, who scored some runs in the Tests, is waiting eagerly on the sidelines.
"Herschelle is a world-class player and has been a proven matchwinner time and time again for South Africa," Smith told reporters. "It is very difficult to leave out a man of his calibre, as we know he could go out any day and win the game in 30 overs. But it is something that has been up for consideration with the selectors."
"We have options with a few guys that can bat in the top order," added Smith, "and Martin [van Jaarsveld] is the likeliest to play if we leave Gibbs out." But wholesale changes are unlikely: "I don't expect too many changes though. We have been playing our best team and will give them one more go."
South Africa are drawing inspiration from their magnificent fightback against Pakistan last year, when they stormed back from a similarly dire position to win the series 3-2. However, this time South Africa are under pressure as their run of defeats starts to threaten the ten-match losing streak under Kepler Wessels in 1994.
But Smith insists that his team are not lacking in confidence or commitment - they just need a bit of luck to spark a comeback. "We have fallen out of the winning habit and we have been a little tense in the crunch situations. We have spoken about the need to relax a little bit so that we can finish games off more ruthlessly."
Sri Lanka's squad, in high spirits after the wedding of Nuwan Zoysa yesterday, trained in the afternoon. Although Tillakaratne Dilshan is suffering from a painful ankle, they will be picking from a full squad. Their only dilemma is the balance of the attack: two seamers or three? Farveez Maharoof and Rangana Herath are battling for the final place.