South Africa v Sri Lanka, 1st Test, Centurion, 1st day December 15, 2011

Sri Lanka pin hopes on Fernando


Nine years ago, on this very ground, Dilhara Fernando almost bowled Sri Lanka to victory over South Africa. The visitors set South Africa a small target of 121, yet had them seven down when victory came. Four of the seven sticks belonged to Fernando. This time, with his side being shot out cheaply on the first day at Centurion, a repeat of such a finish is a pipe dream but with Fernando on form the visitors still have belief.

"He [Fernando] is at his peak," Kaushal Silva, Sri Lanka wicket-keeper said. "He has been doing well for the past couple of months. In the Abu Dhabi tour [against Pakistan], he bowled really quickly. If he bowls well and takes vital wickets, he will be the key man for us."

Fernando finished a controlled spell late on the first day, showing promising signs. He surprised Graeme Smith with a bouncer and then pitched one up to have the South African captain rapped on the pads - a crucial wicket that created a small opening for Sri Lanka. With Dale Steyn at the crease as the night watchman, and a circumspect Jacques Rudolph at the other end on the second morning, Sri Lanka may see the chance to prise the crack open a little wider.

"It moves a lot in the morning," Silva said. "If we can take two or three early wickets in the morning, we can come back into the game." Overhead conditions may not assist Sri Lanka in their task, with skies clearing as the first day wore on and stars visible once darkness descended. Still, they have to hope, after a dismal outing with the bat in which they were rolled out for 180.

"We were hoping for around 250 or 300, and with the way Mahela [Jayawardene] and later Thilan [Samaraweera] were going, we were on target to get there," Silva said. After the pair was dismissed, Sri Lanka lost six wickets for 24 runs and finished well below par on a pitch that should become easier for batting.

Sri Lanka's troubles began at the top, when Tillakaratne Dilshan started the rot by playing a rash shot that had no place in a Test match. Silva said the team was not disappointed by the captain's failure and appreciated that when he comes off, it serves them well. "That's his natural game," Silva said. "Sometimes it is an advantage because if he scores quickly, the pressure on the team comes down."

This time, it did not work and the resulting wretched batting means Sri Lanka put themselves on the back foot. Silva tried to stay positive, though, and hinted that the defensive bowling they started with could turn into something more aggressive on the second morning. "The last few overs, we bowled really well. Tomorrow morning we will need to start again and forget about what happened today."

Forget they might, but undo they cannot, and it will require a supreme effort from Fernando and others to erase the effect of the first-innings collapse and turn this match into a contest.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • JIGNESH on December 18, 2011, 2:49 GMT

    @tanstell87, I am an Indian, that doesn't mean I am giving jealous comment about SL. Look at the Fernando's profile and then read my comment. Every word is true about it. You had faith in Fernando. What happened? SA are 389/9 and Fernando haven't grabbed another wicket after bowling 26 overs at 4.41. The bowler has been playing International cricket for more than 11 years and showed up in only 37 tests. I am not writing about Murlitheran or Vaas here. It's Fernando, one of the struggling bowler of SL. And @Josh2david too, the Indian team or Zaheer or Harbhajan are not the issue here. This article is about Fernando and Kushal. Did I write anything about other than Farnando and Kushal here? Then who writes the nasty comment here? Judge by yourself.

  • Manesh on December 17, 2011, 11:36 GMT

    @jonnybtestmatch. Are you talking about Praveen Kumar's dummy A.Cook in the last 5 ODIs? :P

  • Habeeb on December 16, 2011, 11:09 GMT

    Hi, I donno why some are talking about India here. Agreed SL is in rebuilding phase but apart from Sanga there is no other class batsman in their lineup except to some extent Mahela who showed inclination to stay at the wicket. Also SA batting is prone to collapse and if SL bolwers keep bowling upto their potential it will be a cracker of a series. Also SL fans remember that SL is yet to win a TEST in SA, Aus, Ind. After Murali's retirement SL will face plenty of problems. As far as S'weera is concerned, he is suited only to sub-continent pitches and even Paranavitana is better then him in alien conditions.

  • Hashan on December 16, 2011, 11:07 GMT

    Welagedara is bowling really well.He will pickup few wickets sooner..................

  • Jonny on December 16, 2011, 11:01 GMT

    I am English and to all the Indian fans Sri Lanka have twice the bottle and heart as the Indian players. With such an array of talent the effort you put up in England was shameful. Come on Sri Lankan fans at least your players have spirt and have over achieved historically. The side is just going through the necessary transitional period like the Aussies are. I am sure both sides will be back before too long. As for India, the bowling is garabage and will be for the forseeable future. Pinning the hopes on Fernando is better than Ishant. Short, wide, 4. Alastair Cook says thanks very much. Bring back any memories ..

  • Dummy4 on December 16, 2011, 7:39 GMT

    I wonder why team batting second is not allowed to keep on batting if it has got a lead of more than 200 like team batting first can keep on bowling (follow on) if it has got a lead of more than 200. For example, in this match, say SA make 390 and get all out by the end of 2nd day, they can opt to bat in the 3rd innings and thus avoid chasing in the last innings, post a huge lead and thus make sure that in worst case they will only draw.

  • Nilantha on December 16, 2011, 7:28 GMT

    To those who say they are such of watching SL playing-simple solution:dont,no one is forcing you..we don't need glory supporters who only have Interest when a team Is winning..leave to the rest of us true supporters..yes we are going through tough times but we are in a transition of rebuilding..180 was a light score but considering the wicket favouring bowlers(I am not berating it) it could have been a lot worse..Indian fans,pls keep the comments about THIS series..

  • sajid on December 16, 2011, 7:15 GMT

    A note to all my fellow indians. Lets not be too critical of SL bowling department. They have been plagued by injuries. had pradeep, lakmal and co been available , this trumps the indian fast bowling line up. Without harbajan who is out of sorts, the spin bowling lineup trumps our stock too. And our famed batting failed miserably in England under similar seaming conditions. So we have nothing to write home about to be honest about our own performances

  • inderjit on December 16, 2011, 7:03 GMT

    I am an Indian and i am a big fan of cricket and not the cricketers...But i am dissapointed the way Sri lankans are playing...Jayawardne is good at speaches but i wonder when he scored last fifty in a test match,lol,why cant they find genuine batsmen?

  • Anand on December 16, 2011, 5:15 GMT

    Not a big fan of SL cricket barring few players. But I'm amazed by some of the comments here by my fellow Indian 'fans'. I think we lost all talking rights earlier in the year in England. So a word of advice my friends, lay low for a while. Most teams struggle in the 1st test in SA. We got bundled out for 130 odd last year. Also, why can't views here be balanced? what's this obsession with the extreme?

  • No featured comments at the moment.