Sri Lanka in South Africa 2011-12 December 11, 2011

Sangakkara says spin will play a role


In almost 30 years as a Test-playing nation Sri Lanka have gone from minnows to maestros and, in the last year, halfway back. They have begun a tough tour of South Africa by suffering injuries to key players in the lead-up to the first Test, which starts on December 15 in Centurion. Kumar Sangakkara, Sri Lanka's second-highest run-getter in Tests, is one of the players in doubt for the first Test after he split the webbing on his right hand during Sri Lanka's drawn warm-up match against a South Africa Invitation XI in Benoni. He does expect to play a part in the series, though, and said the team would prove a point to themselves and their opposition.

"We are in a transition period and are coming to terms with new players coming into the side, especially younger ones," Sangakkara said. "We know where we stand as a group. It's important for us to understand that and work with what we have."

In recent times, Sri Lankan cricket has been run by interim committees appointed by the country's sports minister. The most recent of these interim committees was dissolved in November with board elections set to be held in January next year. Sangakkara said the changes at the administrative level did take a toll on the team. "There has been quite a big change in the sense of personnel coming in and out really quickly. Once we come to an understanding of how we want to build in the future as a side, we will have a lot more settled intent and a settled kind of feel to us."

For now, their intent lies in putting on a competitive performance against South Africa. Their tour began with a rain-hit warm-up match in which openers Tharanga Paranavitana and Tillakaratne Dilshan found form, and Mahela Jayawardene was allowed some time in the middle. Although a shortened tour match was not ideal, Sangakkara said the team were relatively happy with what they got out of the match, particularly from a bowling perspective.

The Sri Lanka attack was depleted when Nuwan Pradeep tore his right hamstring after bowling just ten balls on the second day in Benoni, but Dilhara Fernando and Rangana Herath enjoyed fairly successful spells with the ball. "The benefit was in getting out there, getting used to conditions, understanding what lengths to bowl to try to get wickets and really coming to grips with the challenges South African wickets are going to present for the bowlers," Sangakkara said.

Since the retirements of Chaminda Vaas and Muttiah Muralitharan, Sri Lanka's bowling has been a major concern but Sangakkara hopes that this tour will help the team move on from that. He said they should focus on finding new talent to take them forward. "You get one Murali and that's it. It's important for us to come to terms with that mentally. We are not looking for the next Murali. We are looking for the next best spinner to come and win games for us. He might not take 800 wickets but I think the guys we have on tour are good enough to do a job for us."

In Benoni, Herath played both a containing and an attacking role, and most importantly was successful on a surface that offered no help for spinners. It is that quality that Sangakkara says makes Herath a top-class competitor. "Spin has come to play a major part in all formats of the game, much more than ever before. If you are a good spinner you should know and be able to work on how to take wickets on pitches that don't assist you."

Although Sri Lanka have been warned against going into a Test in South Africa with two frontline spinners, they may be forced to because of the deluge of injuries that have hit their fast-bowling department. Ajantha Mendis, famous for his variations, is the other spinner in the squad, and Sangakkara said Mendis would have to concentrate on accuracy rather than magic balls. "It's nice to have that x-factor. But Test cricket is about being disciplined, bowling in the right areas, ball after ball, over after over, and exerting pressure on the opposition."

Sri Lanka remain hopeful that one of either Nuwan Kulasekara or Dhammika Prasad will be fit enough to rejoin the tour, and perform a containing role. With five injured fast bowlers, Sri Lanka have had to answer questions about the fitness of their quicks and Sangakkara agreed that they have to work on their stamina.

"The fast bowlers must start working on their bowling loads. They have to get their bodies used to the load that international cricket demands of you."

The series is one that many expect to be decided by the gulf between the two teams' pace attacks but Sangakkara said there could be more to it than just that. "South Africa has always depended on pure pace and skill with the ball when it comes to fast bowling. But they've got a good spinner in [Imran] Tahir. It will be interesting to see whether the wickets will assist them [spinners] enough for them to break open games."

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • madhawa on December 14, 2011, 0:04 GMT

    yes sri lankans will give a good fight when they put on pressure like this. sri lanka is good at home like others. but they lack the confidence when they play in overseas. if the political and the administrative pressure was not there they will perform well in south africa

  • Sriram on December 13, 2011, 9:35 GMT

    Guys, this is SA vs SL, why bring Ind or Pak..there is a diff place for that. SL will benefit if they have a consistent selection policy and injury free bowlers...what is intresting is none of these injured were playing any IPL or T20, yet injured and its the same with no point blaming other formats..the fact is Fast Bowling is no more a long term career for cricketers..

  • Dummy4 on December 13, 2011, 9:17 GMT

    SAF has done very well at world level but they choke under pressure this can be a point for SRL to exploit,but SRL too have own problems they played very well in WCUP only to be beaten by PAK and IND,angelo matthews and mahela have to get up and deliver the goods,why it is becoming a habit for SAF to do well in early parts then falter,they lost at durban to IND and at JOBURG to AUS,,pretty ms samantha kindly count ur chickens before they HATCH..

  • Satish on December 13, 2011, 8:12 GMT

    Herath is the best spinner SL have and he is really showing his experience.. Can both control and also attack.. Hope we have a good thrilling series ahead.. Almost every match in SA have produced result.. Good cricket ahead!!

  • Amol on December 13, 2011, 8:00 GMT

    SA 3 - 0 SRL. Because this is the Tests. Not the ODIs. Even in ODIs when it's the bilateral series and NOT the World-Cup, SA, still, are the monsters. So people, who come to the conclusion of SRL winning **anything** in this series, based on the comparison of how many finals SA or SRL won/reached in the ODI WCs long back, are in for a B-I-G surprise. Especially the position where SA and SRL stand in the currently Test arena. The fact is SRL can win ONLY at home...even if they play a team of superheroes because they have Murali...wait...err...there is no Muralidharan ...nor there ever will be...ever. I can see a big red danger sign for SRL at least in this series here.

  • Tim on December 13, 2011, 6:27 GMT

    As a Sri Lankan I would love to see our boys win, but I know the best we can achieve will be a draw. I cannot see the Sri Lankan attack take 20 wickets, and I believe the batting will struggle, even though Sri Lanka is the best team from the sub-continent on bouncy wickets .

    Time for the old boys to step-up and the young-ones to enjoy their cricket. Once that start's happening, Sri Lanka will return to the top. (It wasn't too long ago that Sri Lanka were playing for 1st place in the Test rankings).

  • Johnathon on December 13, 2011, 1:31 GMT

    stop arguing over who is better and who is not. last time south africa came to Sri Lanka they were thrashed and gave away highest partnership wicket, but at the same time Sri Lanka has never won a Test match in south africa. Both teams have histories but as of now South Africa have a HUGE leg up over Sri Lanka, judging by the forms of kallis, smith, Amla, Steyn, Morkel, and Tahir (not to mention that new bowler Philander). If Sri Lanka want to even stay alive in this they desperately need their batsman to fire, especially sanga, samaraweera, dilshan, and mahela. Hoping for a Mahela comeback. That man is in love with South Africa and has made many runs against them. Can't see a Lankan win, but if batting is good, there can be a draw. But who knows, anything can happen and after watching the Aus/SA series, the SA batting does not look that strong as it once was a year back

  • Johnathon on December 13, 2011, 1:22 GMT

    @S Jagernath Oh please. Losing 1-0 in England and only by a chaotic freak session on the last day (Cardiff) while the supposed "Number 1 side" which was full strength barring a injured Zaheer Khan, got thrashed 5-0 definitely is enough to call Lanka Maestros. Add to that 2 successive World Cup Final appearance (3 in the last 5) and I think I can safely say Lanka is very high up at the moment

  • josh on December 12, 2011, 23:26 GMT

    @vallavarayar you are talking about india and pak, I think you have a short memory, just reminding you that india was heavily defeated by England last summer, any cricket team is strong in their backyard,Srilanka is under dogs and I believe though they cant win the match they have the potential to draw the match.

  • S on December 12, 2011, 23:09 GMT

    Sanga you very nicely put it. I totally agree with you.

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