Batsmen can adjust - Jayasuriya
Former Sri Lanka captain Sanath Jayasuriya has urged the country's current crop of batsmen to take more responsibility on their tour of South Africa. Sri Lanka lost the first Test at Centurion inside three days after being bowled out for under 200 in both innings and Jayasuriya expects them to regroup strongly.
"They know what the expectations on them are and they know what responsibility they have," Jayasuriya told ESPNCricinfo. "It's high time two or three of them put some runs on the board."
Sri Lanka's most difficult challenge appears to have stemmed from the South African conditions, which the locals are using to their advantage. Seamer-friendly surfaces with plenty of pace and bounce have turned the already dangerous Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander into cricket's equivalent's of fire-breathing dragons and it seems curators in Durban and Cape Town will not allow Sri Lanka's batsmen any let up.
The second Test, Kingsmead's Boxing Day match, is expected to include another bowlers' strip. Traditionally the pitch is bouncy and with rain forecast for all five days, there is also expected to be significant swing in the air. Doomsday is, once again, being predicted for Sri Lanka by everyone but Jayasuriya, who believes the batsmen have now spent long enough in South Africa to have acclimatised. "People say Sri Lankans can't adjust to play in pacy and bouncy conditions but I think they can adjust. They are all experienced enough to do it." Sri Lanka have played in both Benoni and Centurion so far, and this will be their first trip to the coast on this tour.
Experience has also not served Sri Lanka well so far, with only one of their batsmen having scored a century in the country before. Hashan Tillakaratne's hundred at Centurion in 2002 helped Sri Lanka put up a fight against South Africa and they came within three wickets of winning the Test.
Jayasuriya himself, does not have a good record in South Africa. In six Test matches in the country, he scored 182 runs at an average of 15.16, although he did manage a half-century, also at Centurion, back in 1998.
Sri Lanka's saving grace may turn out to be that Durban has not been a happy hunting ground for South Africa recently and they have lost three consecutive Tests there against Australia, England and India, in the last three seasons. But if Sri Lanka hope to capitalise on that record their batsmen will have to turn in far more convincing performances.
Batting consultant Marvan Atapattu has already said the top six are the "most experienced" batsmen Sri Lanka can put out there and the spotlight is on the country's leading run to lead the way. Jayawardene has not scored a half-century outside of Sri Lanka in two years, with the last one being his 275 against India in Ahmedabad. His last score of over 50 outside of the subcontinent was in March 2008, when he scored 136 against West Indies in Guyana.
Jayasuriya said that Jayawardene's lean patch should come to an end soon. "It is a concern but he has played enough cricket to come out of these situations," he said. "He is going through a bad time at the moment and it's tough for a good player to go through. The run-out was disappointing." Jayawardene was found short of his ground while attempting his 10,000th Test run in the second innings at Centurion and was dismissed for 15.
The likeliest contender to turn Sri Lanka's tour around is middle-order man Thilan Samaraweera, who was responsible for Sri Lanka's highest score in the Centurion Test, a fairly fluent 36. He was one of Sri Lanka's better performers on their tour of England, with two half-centuries and Jayasuriya pinpointed him as the man who should step up. "Twenties and 30s are not going to help the team," Jayasuriya said. "He needs to continue from there so that the team as a whole can recover."
Jayasuriya's advice to the rest of the line-up is the same as captain Tillakaratne Dilshan's. "We have to play our natural game and not think of anything else," Jayasuriya said. Dilshan was dismissed in the first innings playing an across-the-line hoick, a shot that could easily have been mistaken for a Twenty20 stroke and Jayasuriya was quick to say that he did not advocate that kind of looseness. "We also have to still manage to adjust to bat for long periods of time."
Sri Lanka's batting failures have diverted criticism off the team's bowlers - who were talked of as an attack that would struggle to take 20 wickets. With little to bowl at, they have not been able to dispute that theory yet and Jayasuriya sympathised with the fortunes of the attack so far. "We can't blame the bowlers," he said. "Many of them are not experienced enough. They are just trying to do the basics and bowl in the right areas in those conditions."
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent