South Africa v Sri Lanka, 1st Test, Centurion, 3rd day December 17, 2011

Manner of defeat more concerning for Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka's struggles on the field are compounded by their issues behind the scenes

Would you have any motivation if the company you worked for was in a corporate governance tangle messier than Lasith Malinga's hair? If that company had not had elections in the last seven years and had run by a series of committees who changed more frequently than the number of teams in the IPL and with far greater impact? And most importantly, if you had not been paid in nine months?

Sri Lanka's cricketers have managed to keep going, albeit it without much success, in spite of all of the above. Allegedly, they have come to South Africa more interested and with greater focus than they have had in any other series this year.

That has included a tour of England, in which a nightmare session in Cardiff saw Sri Lanka skittled for 82, a home series against Australia where the dustbowl at Galle gave Australia victory and a trip to the UAE where rain in Sharjah denied Sri Lanka a Test win. Now, in the country where flat-track bullies come to die and with injuries to five fast-bowlers, Sri Lanka arrived with a smidgen of self-belief and heaps of hope.

So far, it has all came to nought. They were written off every time they were written about and in the end they lived up, or rather down, to their reputation and were solidly and comprehensively beaten.

More concerning than the loss itself was the manner in which it came. The lack of application and commitment from Sri Lanka's batsmen, albeit against a quality attack who exploited their home conditions well, was astounding and the ease with which they gave up was alarming. Everyone from Tillakaratne Dilshan to Rangana Herath succumbed to an inability to read the lengths the South African bowlers presented them with. Eight batsmen were caught by the wicket-keeper or in the slips in a second innings showing that was more dismal than the first.

Between being told to be positive, without being rash, and cautious without being tentative, it's little wonder that Sri Lanka's batsmen are somewhat confused.

It's unlikely they were thinking of their pay cheques or their board when they edged behind and even unlikelier that their bank accounts were full, the edges would have become solid drives, but it's clear that something is plaguing Sri Lankan cricket. In an excuse that sounded almost Mahmudullah-eqsue in nature, Dilshan revealed that he does not know exactly what it is that stops Sri Lanka from translating their net practices into on-field performances.

"We are working hard in the nets, but we are not able to carry it into the middle," he said. "We have two batsmen close to 10,000 runs [Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara] but as a batting group, we have not been clicking well over the last few months."

Over-reliance on the two big names could be part of the problem. Even when Dilshan and Tharanaga Paranavitana had been dismissed, it was when Vernon Philander worked over Kumar Sangakkara that the sense that real trouble had hit Sri Lanka's ranks emerged.

When Mahela Jayawardene was run-out attempting to make his 10,000th Test run, an innings defeat seemed inevitable. Even Dilshan admitted that the once the milestone is out of the way, a burden will be lifted. "I think if he got 10,000 runs, after that he might have had a free mind," Dilshan said.

As a unit, Dilshan said that responsibility has to be taken by all but he did not signal out anyone else in the line-up. The middle-order appears brittle, Prasanna Jayawardene is being missed and the game-plans are not being thought out with the required depth to play in foreign conditions.

Marvan Atapattu said Sri Lanka had to be "positive" when they approached their second innings. It appears that that instruction is being misunderstood by some players, adding another dimension to their issues. Dilshan's first innings shot was an example of it. Atapattu wants his batsmen to look to AB de Villiers' innings as an example of how to play on South African surfaces. "Anything outside the off stump, look to score off and anything pitched up," he said.

Instead, Sri Lanka were strangled by fuller deliveries, particularly by Vernon Philander's show of bowling just outside off and getting the ball to nip around. They showed unnatural restraint and fell apart as a result. "If you are tentative on a wicket like that, you won't get many places," Graeme Smith, South Africa captain, said.

Between being told to be positive, without being rash, and cautious without being tentative, it's little wonder that Sri Lanka's batsmen are somewhat confused. Dilshan said he only needs the batting problems to be fixed in order for his side to be competitive because the bowlers will be able to produce in seamer-friendly conditions. "If the batting unit can put runs on the board, I feel we can bowl them [South Africa] out if we are given this kind of wicket, with help for the fast bowlers," he said. "If we can put some runs on the board, we know we can put pressure on the South African team."

But finding those runs seems to be a beyond the Sri Lankan batsmen. Dilshan has repeatedly insisted that the board issues are not troubling the team, that they can't control what is happening at management level, and in a tone that sounds almost like a plea for help that Sri Lanka are just "trying to play our best cricket".

That may be the case, but the environment in which Sri Lanka have to play their cricket is not one that facilitates a culture of success or development. The shop's backroom is a shambles so their outside display can hardly be perfect. Although Sri Lanka's cricketers have been trying to do a window-dressing act for months, their abysmal form see some questions being asked about what is really the source of their current problems.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • dummy4fb on December 20, 2011, 8:34 GMT

    @Fast_Track_Bully. Not only IND PAK also win matches in SA,AUS,ENG etc. SL also win some matches in WIN,NZ,ENG,PAK etc (except IND,SA and AUS).So you can not say SL never won matches in ENG or NZ like that.But SL never lost to series or match to ZIM. You said IND is far better than SL, true it should be because IND is playing since 1932 and SL start to play exactly after 50 years that is in 1982. And also with that 29years of play SL achieve lot of thing.But if IND is so great tell me when they win series in AUS or SA (Never). When time to come SL will win all the places.

  • Amol_Gh on December 20, 2011, 6:34 GMT

    Mrgupta: ("I agree it isn't India, but i disagree that its either of Eng, SA or Aus.") Spot on, bang on target !!!

  • on December 20, 2011, 6:28 GMT

    So as per SL fans, winning one or 2 matches (like India did) in SA,WI, Aus or Eng is very BAD than winning nothing (SL)...and winning a series in India where conditions are same to their home conditions is is NOT IMPORTANT to them! LOL what a logic by Lankan fans! BTW, nobody called India as dominant as SA or Aus... but India is FAR BETTER THAN SL in foreign pitches. Just ask SA about it!

  • Sachwid on December 20, 2011, 6:20 GMT

    @Xolile, well said mate !

  • mrgupta on December 20, 2011, 4:49 GMT

    @Ahamed Afker: Ok we can accept your comment that wining a match here and there does not make a team great so if you think Eng is a great team then please check and answer this question, India last Won a test series in Eng in 2007, when was the last time England Won a series in India and when was the last time SA won a home series against Aus? For your information Aussies have lost to England in 3 out of last 4 series, Aussies have lost to India in 2 of last 3 series and havn't Won a test against India in last 8 attempts. India on their last two trips to SA and Aus has consistently Won Test matches and England's recent Test series victory over India was their first in last 15 years. So again, who is the Great team here? I agree it isn't India, but i disagree that its either of Eng, SA or Aus.

  • Amol_Gh on December 19, 2011, 16:57 GMT

    I'm **NO** SRL basher. I just talk in the language called 'Statistics'. And according to that SRL are yet to win a Test in IND, AUS and SA. That's a fact.

  • dummy4fb on December 19, 2011, 16:10 GMT

    Contd....You mention Pakistan won in every corner its a big big joke Kindly check the stats ,Pakistan have taken 15 years to register a single Test match victory over Australia,Since 1993-2000 SA murder pak in ODI CLINICALLY Their home recored has been too miserable since 1990-2006 where they lost every team at home.India on the other hand conceded only Two series technically against that was agst SA IN 2000 and AUS in 2004,Their record since 15 years agst all conquering Aus stand 12-10 in Ind favour Yes India lost and drew series against Zimbabwe in Zim at 1998(0-1) and 2001(1-1) respectively but Pakistan also lost their home series against Zim (ur truly minnows) in 1998 1-0 inspite of being avery strong all round sides in that sense u decide which side is dull???I m too a cricket fan I have high regard over Aus and SA in consistency ,I put India and england below them but Pakistan no way they are still long way to impress and their recent truimp over BD ,ZIM,SlL are least expected

  • dummy4fb on December 19, 2011, 15:55 GMT

    @ Ahamed Afker with due regard ur comments @josh2david. Not only Sehwag ........But in times come they will do that for sure...I want to stand my comments too.See Sehwag 1st Test Century on his debut that was against World class South african attack comprises Pollock,Ntini,kallis tcc which can be rated same league or even above Vernom Philander.If India have tamed Any one in the world at their prime Philander is too not abig deal.Yes winning here and there is not be called as superior team but ur mentioned England side to had its number they were all hidding for 16 years in Ashes against Aussies.even though they currently ranked No 1 they still not best bet in subcontinent wicket,yes till last three years before Aussies are onsistent side and they are deserved to be what they were,but now table are turned and they too are Average side ,As per South Africa are concern they are the team that won all over the world but yet to have register home series victory over Aussies To be Contd.

  • Habi on December 19, 2011, 10:42 GMT

    @Yashiharan, Though it's not SL's fault that they played more in home yet the away test results are very poor for SL. Ind on their part have won in Aus, Eng, SL, WI, SL, NZ and even in Pak. Its coz of financial clout of Asia that Murali was allowed to bowl by altering the ICC rules. After this only SL won regularly at home else nobody would have termed SL as home lions. Its true that in Sanga and Mahela they have world class batsmen, but they have to prove themselves in available away games which they have very rarely performed. Its Ind who halted the AUS juggernaut twice. SL are yet to win a single test in SA, Aus ok there are less tours there then what about in Ind SL have not won a test in Ind even with Murali, Vaas, J'suriya, Arvinda, Ranatunga, Mahanama. Anyway hope SL will bounce back in 2nd Test as the Ind did last time coz SA batting is prone to collapse under pressure.

  • rahulcricket007 on December 19, 2011, 10:33 GMT

    @ahmed afker . yeah consistently winning like sa , and consistent choking like sa too lol .

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