Sri Lanka v South Africa, 1st Test, Colombo, 1st day July 27, 2006

Moody hails Murali and Fernando

Tom Moody passes a tip or two to Dilhara Fernando © AFP
An expectedly upbeat Tom Moody, the Sri Lankan coach, hailed his bowlers for cleaning up South Africa for a paltry 169, adding that the pitch was likely to get slower as the match went on. Mickey Arthur, his South African counterpart, admitted to some opening-day nerves but blamed his batsmen for an "ordinary" display.

"If we won the toss we would have batted first," asserted Moody when asked about South Africa's decision to bat. "Runs in the first innings are crucial. If we had the opportunity to bat first we would have made a good feast of it. This wicket looks a little bit different than the one against Pakistan. That wicket had more grass coverage and more root. There was a lot of seam movement in the first two days of that Test match. This wicket is a lot more placid and slow in pace. It might even turn slowly as the game progresses. Murali likes to bowl first here because it does bounce more. He was not unhappy for us to lose the toss. He bowled superbly today."

Moody reckoned that the middle session had proved to be the most crucial part of the day. "We bowled particularly well in the middle session," he continued. "We got the early break straight after lunch and that broke the backbone of their top order. That was significant from our point of view particularly since South Africa went in with the option of losing one of their top order batsmen for an all rounder in Hall. Making that double break straight after lunch was significant. The way that Murali was bowling and Dilhara bowled we made inroads throughout their innings."

Dilhara Fernando's fine burst complemented Murali's magic and Moody hailed the hard work he'd put into his fast bowling. "He's made vast improvements. It's not a new thing. Dilly's been working very hard in the last 12 months. Since I've been here he's worked hard on a number of aspects on his bowling. He's had no-ball problems in the past but most fast bowlers in world cricket have that problem. He's overcome that through hard work, working on a number of different drills that helped. It's not an instant fix. The decision to leave him out of the England tour for the Test matches was maybe the wake up call. He really may have needed to say 'now, this is the time to really get it right and work extremely hard'. His confidence is very high. He is going to go from strength to strength. He showed how effective it is to have someone who can bowl 90 mph coming as first change."

Arthur, while mentioning how disappointing a day it was, preferred to dwell on the positives. "There was a fair amount of soft dismissals," he added. "We never got going and we were slightly tentative. There were a lot of nerves in the dressing room this morning obviously coming into a series like this from guys who haven't played under conditions like this before. The guys were feeling nervous and tentative and it came out in our batting unfortunately. We never seemed to get the momentum going. We were caught between being positive and being mindful of Muralitharan. It certainly wasn't the way we planned to play.

"A performance like today helps a lot. It actually shows the approach that we don't want to play. I want us to play with freedom. We had one bad day in office but we got four days to come back. I am not looking for excuses but we lost two senior batters. It was quite difficult for the younger guys coming into a Test match looking to secure places. We discussed playing Murali from the crease but it didn't work out that way. It's all part of our learning process."

The only batsmen who countered Murali with any degree of confidence was AB de Villiers. "I enjoyed every second of my innings," he said at the end of the day. "I was under a bit of pressure when I came in but that's what I like. Murali is one of the best bowlers in the world, if not the best. I still like to keep my thoughts positive and go at him. All bowlers must be put under pressure and that's where the bad balls come in. That's the way I am going to play and hope it will come off. If you let him bowl at you and are not willing to score, you are in trouble."