South Africa v Sri Lanka, 1st Test, Centurion December 14, 2011

Dilshan not cowed by South Africa challenge


South Africa's media have not gone as far as Martin Johnson did when he labelled England a team that "can't bat, can't bowl, can't field," but their sizing up of Sri Lanka has come close. From questioning whether the batsmen will be able to stand up, let alone score runs, on green pitches, to wondering if the bowlers will pose a threat at all, they clearly see Sri Lanka as small fries ahead of the upcoming series.

The only thing that has escaped debate has been Sri Lanka's fielding, and rightly so. During a four-hour practice session on Tuesday, Sri Lanka spent close to a quarter of their time on fielding drills. They took slip catches hit off the hardest of edges, ran madly for skied shots and one of them stood on one foot while the ball was lobbed to him, over and over again.

It was a session that showed that Sri Lanka are not leaving anything to chance. They have come to South Africa knowing it will be tough and are ready to discover new methods to survive in a place that is, to almost all of them, entirely unknown. They are well aware that they are not expected to cause an upset but their desire to spring a few surprises has not dimmed.

It's worth remembering that this is a team that maintained a dominant home record for a period of time, in which they beat Australia, England and South Africa. Their away trips have not yielded similar success but Sri Lanka are convinced that the tide will turn, as it has for them in one-day cricket. Even though they are currently in a slump that has seen them stack up four Test defeats and ten draws since July last year, Tillakaratne Dilshan, their captain, believes the team is already getting better.

"We made a few mistakes in the last series against Pakistan but we have discussed what went wrong. Everyone is looking forward to this series," Dilshan said. "After losing the second Test against Pakistan, we came back very strongly in the last match and played good cricket."

Sri Lanka were hampered by rain as they pushed for a win against Pakistan in the third Test of their series in the UAE, played in Sharjah. They had Pakistan 87 for 4 chasing 255 when they ran out of time, and could not level the series. They suffered 1-0 defeats in their two series before that, in England and at home to Australia. This is arguably a tougher series than any of those three, but Dilshan hopes his depleted squad can rise to the occasion.

He did seem slightly perturbed by the green nature of the pitch in Centurion, which is going to have bowlers more hopeful of wickets than when they see Chris Martin at the crease. "It looks good for the fast bowlers," Dilshan said, in a tone that makes it a candidate for understatement of the year. "All the fast bowlers can really enjoy this wicket."

Instead of dwell on the problems the surface could pose to Sri Lanka's batsmen, Dilshan preferred to talk about the possibilities it presents his inexperienced attack with. He accepted that South Africa have a threatening pace attack, but said his own pack were not far behind. "We also have a few young fast bowlers. Dilhara [Fernando] is experienced, [Chanaka] Welegedara has done really well for us. It will be good for the bowlers to take on this challenge."

He did not dwell on the injuries that have hit Sri Lanka's squad, not even the one that may keep star batsman Kumar Sangakkara out of the first Test. Sangakkara batted in the nets on Wednesday and Dilshan said that could be key to taking a call on whether he plays.

The two teams have not played each other in a Test since 2006 but Dilshan said that did not mean they did not know about each other. "Everyone has played everyone during the IPL. With technology everyone knows what everyone else is doing."

Some may think Sri Lanka have walked into a slaughter house, but they have converted quiet confidence into surprises before, and Dilshan seemed to mean it when he said his team were looking forward to the challenge. "There is self-belief that everyone can do their job for the team. Everyone says South Africa is the favourite but if we can play our brand of cricket we can beat any team in any conditions."

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Manesh on December 15, 2011, 9:17 GMT

    SL will not be able to win a single test. Only India and Aus can win test against SA in SA.

  • Muhammad Ammar on December 15, 2011, 7:56 GMT

    Order of batting appearance need to be improved for SL. And it should be fixed for 6 test innings and all the onedayers. It should be No. 1, 3, 5 (or 2, 4, 6) as Dilshan, Sanga, Mahela, so that they are present on the pitch for major time of the innings, along with juniors are groomed. Let them stroke play from near the body with front foot only, and don't rush for singles. I hope, 300 will not be a problem for them. If SL got 300 in first innings, then SA must be in challenging position, as seamers have equal opportunities.

  • Alex on December 15, 2011, 6:37 GMT

    It is simple. Without Murali in Test , Malinga in ODI , srilanka do not have that MOJO. It is empty. They still have sangakara who keeps it respectable. Welegedara may take few wickets with his swing. Herath will take few wickets. I am 100% sure Srilanka can't take 20 SA wickets. SO it is matter of how long srilanka bat against furious steyn in green pitch. It will be fun to watch.

  • Ameya on December 15, 2011, 5:55 GMT

    Firdose SRL beat Australia once only ever that in 99 with a side that had deSilva and Ranatunga.In 2004 they were whitewashed at home by shane warne ,Damien Martyn combine while in 09 were lucky to escape just a 1-0 loss.Please check up the facts

  • DILSHAN on December 15, 2011, 4:18 GMT

    it is about time he walks his talks. he should let his bat do the talking. he has to lead from the front coz he's going upfront. he is a easy prey for fast bowlers traps. SL has to bat the first 20 overs out by scoring just 40-50 runs without loosing a wicket. that is the key to laying a solid platform. this is why we have our 3 best batsman in the Top 4. ideally if we bat 1st & end the first days play on 250-3 or max 4 wickets then we have a great chance of scoring 400runs. then we can always put pressure on the Saffers. it will not do any justice if each batsman cannot occupy the crease to face a minimum of 90balls. look at their Test Averages each batsman has over 35 upto 54 so if each guy can bat to their potential then we easily have over 300 on the board. it is high time SL batsman stand up on their own feet after several lacklusture performances over the last 3 series. if not we need to make wholesome changes and look at the future. eg-Dinesh Chandimal & Bhanuka Rajapakse.

  • shazran on December 15, 2011, 3:35 GMT

    Sri Lanka+Murali+Malinga VS South Africa would have been a better contest . argually would have been the best serious for the year .

  • Dummy4 on December 15, 2011, 2:22 GMT

    As far as I am concerned wining or lossing is not the biggest issue, it applies to many aspects, not just to crickets. If Dilshan and others can try too hard to win, that matters most. We have to be realistic that we cannot defeat everyone. There are very good teams in the world, and you probably find its too hard to defeat them always. Thats why you have home and away matches. When you cannot defeat them away, you should try to defeat them at home. Except too weak teams, every team has certian talents and they should try to use them for their favour at home mathes. If SA win matches against SL in SA, SL should try to win matches in SL, thats what SL did for most of times and very recently, it seems they lost that idea. That should be the min. achievement. Then, you should try to win some away matches. It should be realistic that loosing to SA in SA is not bad as loosing to AG in SL. Sri Lanka should get back to what they were doing for long, winning all at home and some away !

  • Dummy4 on December 15, 2011, 1:24 GMT

    Just IMAGINE Srilanka ends up winning the series after no one giving them a chance!

  • Dummy4 on December 15, 2011, 1:08 GMT

    c'mon Sri Lanka..we don't need u to crush SA. We need you to show Lion spirit and fight till the end..

  • Nilantha on December 14, 2011, 23:33 GMT

    We need to temper our aggression when we bat and take time to adjust to the surface.each & every batsman needs to put in the effort if they are going to scire top or not,if they apply themselves,it can be done-look at warner in last aus v nz test on a bowler friendly wicket.patience is key...

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