South Africa v Sri Lanka, 1st Test, Centurion, 2nd day December 16, 2011

Lack of runs hinders Sri Lanka fight

Sri Lanka kept up a competitive spirit for large parts of day two but their lack of first-innings runs saw their comeback wilt away

Test cricket, unlike any other sport, does not give mismatches anywhere to hide. In football, when a team goes 7-nil down, like North Korea did against Portugal in last year's World Cup, the humiliation was over in 90 minutes. The same goes for rugby. In baseball, a mercy rule kills a World Series once it's been won. In a Test match, five, long days can go by in which one side totally dominates the other.

When Sri Lanka were shot out for 180 and South Africa raced to 90 for one overnight, this match seemed headed that way. By the end of the day, with South Africa in the lead by 209, the one-way traffic analogy still applied.

But, for a session and a little more, Sri Lanka did what they could to keep ignite a competitive flame and had they continue to apply the pressure they created, the result could have been very different. Ultimately, they just did not have enough runs to keep the bowlers interested for long enough and their initial control turned into a casual going through the motions, undoing what started off as a surprisingly promising show by the Sri Lankan bowlers.

After the absurdity of the nightwatchman was once again proved with the run-out of Dale Steyn in the second over, Sri Lanka's bowlers woke up. Ten times, South Africa's batsmen edged, four of those were fatal. The return could have been better for Sri Lanka, who dropped three catches, and they could have minimised the damage they suffered if the fielders had backed up the bowler's efforts.

When a team has to take the field with only a small total to play with, according to Shaun Pollock, they have to set more defensive fields. The logic is that cutting off run flow will force rash strokes. But is also a strategy that relies on the opposition making mistakes and against a technically sound and classy South African line-up, relying on error alone will not work. But, Sri Lanka understood that they needed to find a balance between attack and defence and seemed to get it right at first.

The three wickets that fell late in the day drew mild, almost non-existent, celebrations from the fielders who knew that the bowlers had conjured up a little but that little is probably not enough.

Chanaka Welegedara convinced Tillakaratne Dilshan that a more attacking approach was needed when he forced Jacques Rudolph into playing a short ball that rose on him. The edge required Mahela Jayawardene to dive to his left and although he got hands to it, could not hold on. A third slip might have. Welegedara also could have had Hashim Amla early on when he offered him a full ball to drive, which Amla's lack of footwork did not allow him to get to. The resulting edge flew through the area where third slip would have been.

Those two chances prompted Dilshan to insert a third slip and four over later, Amla was caught in that position. Thisara Perera induced the drive but held the length back to exact an awkward drive from Amla. Three slips remained in place for most of the day after that.

The Sri Lankan bowlers sought to bring the cordon into play as they varied their lengths all morning and did particularly well when they were able to make the ball bounce off the dents in the pitch. For a significant period of time, they had the South African batsmen unsure whether to leave or play or they were able to maintain accurate enough lines to prevent the shots they did play from causing too much harm. There was some assistance in the pitch and some deliveries kept lower than expected, like the one that clanged into Kallis' helmet, but even with aid from the surface, skill is required to make it work in one's favour.

Sometimes, that skill can crave a result too much. Perera showed some over-eagerness when he saw tried too hard to create an edge. His 12th over was a disaster, in which he overpitched and was driven through the covers, veered onto the legside and was whipped through mid-wicket and then, in exasperation, sent down a half-volley which Kallis gobbled up.

Dilhara Fernando struck the right balance and his sustained attack on Kallis should have seen him get some reward. He smacked South Africa's highest Test run-scorer on the side of his head, drew blood from him and then would have him out at the start of the next over, when Kaushal Silva palmed the easiest of catches.

Kallis was shaken but valiant and came out after lunch to face a dangerous looking Welegedara. Dilshan's tactics worked as he used the spinner to change the left-armer's end and third slip came into play again and Kallis drove, edged and was out.

Silva said that Herath was only expected to play a containing role in the first innings and it was one that he did well. While holding on his end, he gave Welegedara licence to continue being in the batsmen's face. Again, the edge appeared. Ashwell Prince took South Africa into the lead with two streaky shots and continued to look shaky when he edged Perera to third man later in the sesson.

De Villiers defied the control and ended Sri Lanka's resistance in the 67th over when he timed a drive past the bowler, with such grace and class that one could almost see the sting being removed from Sri Lanka's tail. As the lead ballooned, the bowling became progressively more listless, although the script was punctuated with wickets, it was only for a few balls after each stick fell that Sri Lanka perked up a little again.

The second new ball was just about wasted and when Angelo Matthews' review against AB de Villiers, who was initially given not out, did not yield a result, the shoulders dropped even lower. The three wickets that fell late in the day to take Sri Lanka close to the end of the South African line-up drew mild, almost non-existent, celebrations from the fielders who knew that the bowlers had conjured up a little but that little is probably not enough. Day three will present the best conditions for batting but Sri Lanka will need something resembling a miracle to prevent a predictable and one-sided conclusion to this Test.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • dummy4fb on December 17, 2011, 16:13 GMT

    est performers in ODI tournament finals (Qual: 750 runs) Batsman Matches Runs Average Strike rate 100s/ 50s Gary Kirsten 20 1019 67.93 74.16 3/ 7 Viv Richards 18 836 55.73 84.78 1/ 9 Sachin Tendulkar 39 1833 55.54 87.41 6/ 10 Matthew Hayden 17 760 50.66 73.14 1/ 6 Dean Jones 30 1064 48.36 73.12 1/ 8 Aravinda de Silva 24 930 44.28 88.06 2/ 6 Sanath Jayasuriya 39 1613 42.44 98.35 2/ 13 Marvan Atapattu 26 969 40.37 70.01 2/

  • dummy4fb on December 17, 2011, 16:12 GMT

    Highest Test averages against Australia since 1990 Batsman Tests Runs Average 100s/ 50s Sachin Tendulkar 29 2748 56.08 10/ 11 VVS Laxman 24 2204 55.10 6/ 10 Virender Sehwag 15 1483 51.13 3/ 7 Brian Lara 31 2856 51.00 9/ 11 Kevin Pietersen 12 1116 50.72 2/ 7 Richie Richardson 14 1084 49.27 4/ 4 Graham Thorpe 16 1235 45.74 3/ 8 Shivnarine Chanderpaul 17 1303 44.93 4/

  • dummy4fb on December 17, 2011, 16:09 GMT

    srilanka flat track bullies one amazing stat highest average against austalia in australia since 1990 sehwag 59.50,sachin58.53 laxman 54 rahul 48.60 kaliis 49 kallis 45 lara 41thats why these are great not sanga and jaya

  • SirViv1973 on December 17, 2011, 15:54 GMT

    @Engee agree with some of your comments but SrL are no longer strong in their own back yard. They have recently lost at home to an average Aus team and were held in a drawn series with West Indies last year in which WI were much the better side in the first test at least. They were always going to struggle when Vaas and Murali finished although it did look like for a while that they would have champion bowlers in Malinga and Mendis but for different reasons this has not been the case. What I don't think anyone saw coming was the way their batting has just disintegrated. Their first inns totals in particular have been consistently low in most tests they have played in the last couple of years and if you don't get runs on the board in your 1st inns you put yourself under huge pressure to save games let alone win them.

  • dummy4fb on December 17, 2011, 15:43 GMT

    no 1 batsmen sanga flop flattrack bully innings defeat durban next fastest pitch india won their this year sachin hundred again jayawadene is nothing to talk third class scores only in lanka arvinda was greatest player luved the wayhe bat

  • dummy4fb on December 17, 2011, 15:19 GMT

    mr bravo bravo india wona test match in 2007 also in sa and selfish are srilankans neva won in sa india woninperth i think next 50 years srilanka will neva do it pathetic team

  • BravoBravo on December 17, 2011, 14:24 GMT

    Congrats SA!!! SL is going through a lean patch and hopefully they will learn from their follies. They need to learn and play competitive matches, and keeping that in mind that they are not playing against IND (which they did a lot during 2007-2010). The SL vs IND sreies were a record fest to the extent that it became nauseating. Cricket is not simply stats, it is a game. Not a long time ago, IND vs SA first test at centurion (2010), IND lost by an innings and 25 runs, Tendul made 111 no in that match, tried every thing in the book to remain not out by taking singles so that IND tail face the fury of SA pace attack, and he improves his average. Probably Tendul did not have ability or will or character to save IND from inning defeat. Is there any worst defeat than inning defeat? But for IND fan run matters even if it is for humiliating cause. This is first test match, lets see how SL performs in forthcoming test. Go SL, if IND can draw a sereies against SA, you could do it too.

  • Front-Foot-Lunge on December 17, 2011, 13:14 GMT

    Yes, it was a seamer's pitch, and yes SA bowled well, but that's no excuse for the complete lack of shot selection, technique and bottle that Sri Lanka showed. Let's hope for a less one-sided next test.

  • on December 17, 2011, 11:44 GMT

    @randikaayya . But India manages to draw the SA series 1-1 what you will do?

  • dummy4fb on December 17, 2011, 11:44 GMT

    sinhababu go check stats this year india drew against sa won in fastest pitch durban in 2008 won in pert in 2007 won series in england in 2000 to 2010 india is far better traveller than lanka no comparison in 2008 triangular series australia srilanka smashed by india australia india won that tournament victories by india in pert durban and drawn series inaustralia sa and win in england 2007 are dreams for srilanka this decade india only this england tour was bad and that was due toinjuries but srilanka every tour is humiliation go check stats before comparing to india huhh looking at india always if srilanka has done something for themselves they should have achieved wat india did

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