South Africa v Sri Lanka, 2nd Test, Durban December 24, 2011

Hosts' best chance to reverse trend

Madhusudhan Ramakrishnan
South Africa will be highly confident of ending their losing run in Durban against a Sri Lankan team struggling to adjust to the conditions

Given the extent of South Africa's dominance in the first Test, Sri Lanka will be hard-pressed to mount a comeback in another of South Africa's pace-friendly venues. In Centurion, the visitors were dismissed twice below 200 and altogether faced only 86.5 overs, their second-lowest in a match (excluding draws) outside the subcontinent (including matches in UAE). Sri Lanka's failures with the bat have been compounded by their innocuous bowling leaving them with a huge task on hand ahead of the Boxing Day Test. In the past too, Sri Lanka never quite had the bowling resources to win Tests consistently outside the subcontinent but following the retirement of their finest bowler Muttiah Muralitharan, their fortunes have gone downhill both in home and away Tests. South Africa, on the other hand, will take immense confidence into the second Test in their quest to win their first home series in nearly three years. The only solace for the visitors will be the fact that the hosts are under pressure to end a run of poor results in Durban which has seen them lose their last three matches at the venue.

Since their readmission in 1991, South Africa have been an extremely consistent Test team in both home and away matches. At home, especially, a quality pace attack and helpful conditions have enabled them to dominate all Test teams except Australia. Despite being a venue favouring pace bowling, South Africa have not quite had a dominant record in Durban. In Centurion though, where they won the first Test by an innings, South Africa have won 13 matches and lost just one. The remarkable success at the venue is reflected in the high value of the average difference (18.77). In Cape Town too, South Africa's win-loss ratio is 5.00, which is much higher than their corresponding number in Durban. Since 2000, visiting teams have managed to compete very effectively in Durban winning four matches to South Africa's five. The average difference has fallen from 7.68 in the 1990s to 3.70 in the period since 2000. South Africa, who have lost the two previous Boxing Day matches at the venue against England and India, will undoubtedly be keen to turn the tables and complete a series win.

South Africa's Test record at various home venues since 1990
Venue 1990-1999 (matches, wins/losses) 1990-1999 (bat avg/bowl avg) 2000-2011 (matches, wins/losses) 2000-2011 (bat avg/bowl avg) Overall win-loss ratio Overall avg diff
Johannesburg 10, 4/2 32.13/29.68 12, 5/6 31.93/28.28 1.12 3.12
Cape Town 7, 5/1 37.33/27.00 16, 10/2 42.38/28.07 5.00 12.93
Durban 8, 3/1 31.79/24.11 11, 5/4 34.33/30.63 1.60 5.18
Port Elizabeth 6, 3/1 29.80/21.36 5, 1/3 28.64/30.39 1.00 4.01
Centurion 4, 3/0 37.90/22.88 13, 10/1 44.75/24.95 13.00 18.77

Before the series began, Sri Lanka were expected to struggle in foreign conditions. The Sri Lankan batsmen, in recent years, have played very little outside the subcontinent and last featured in a series in South Africa in 2002. The lack of exposure to pace-friendly surfaces hurt them once again in Centurion as the batsmen were all at sea against the South African fast bowlers. Vernon Philander and Dale Steyn tormented all the batsmen and even the experienced Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene struggled to counter the movement on offer. In matches outside the subcontinent since 2005, Sri Lankan batsmen have the lowest average against fast bowling (28.04). Their problems can easily be gauged from the fact that even West Indies and New Zealand, who are among the lower-ranked teams, have better batting averages against pace bowling in the same period.

The problems for Sri Lanka don't end on the batting front. The inability to take 20 wickets in a game has become a matter of serious concern after Muralitharan's retirement. In conditions outside the subcontinent where spinners are less potent, the Sri Lankan pace bowlers have failed to raise their game to stay competitive. Except for Dilhara Fernando who impressed in patches and hurried the South African batsmen on a few occasions in the first Test, the rest of the bowlers were very ordinary and lacked consistency. In the last few years, pace bowlers from England, South Africa and Australia have maintained excellent bowling averages and strike rates. In contrast, Sri Lankan fast bowlers have the highest average (excluding Bangladesh and Zimbabwe) and a very poor strike rate of 82.7. In 19 matches, Sri Lankan pace bowlers have managed only 119 wickets (average of just over six per match) while the corresponding numbers for South Africa and Australia are 14.35 and 12.61. India and Pakistan, on the other hand, have bowled much better than Sri Lanka outside the subcontinent and their pace bowlers average close to ten wickets per match in Tests since 2005.

Batting stats of teams against pace bowlers and performance of pace bowlers (since 2005)*
Team Matches Bat avg (agst pace) Wickets Wickets/match (pace) Average SR
England 73 37.55 920 12.60 31.32 56.7
Australia 65 37.42 820 12.61 29.36 54.8
South Africa 56 37.83 804 14.35 28.24 52.2
New Zealand 40 28.34 443 11.07 33.26 61.4
Pakistan 31 29.21 308 9.93 31.96 57.0
India 27 29.85 263 9.74 35.58 62.2
West Indies 50 29.88 501 10.02 38.83 69.5
Sri Lanka 19 28.04 119 6.26 47.92 82.7

*Performances outside subcontinent (including matches in UAE and excluding matches in Zimbabwe)

Sri Lanka play far fewer matches outside the subcontinent as compared to India and Pakistan. While they have played 80 Tests at home and in the subcontinent (excluding UAE) since 2000, they have only played 30 matches in the same period overseas (including UAE). Contrast this with Pakistan and India, who have played 49 and 45 matches overseas. The top-order batsmen have thus failed to adjust to foreign conditions and this lack of consistency has been Sri Lanka's biggest letdown. Sri Lanka have lost 17 out of 30 Tests since 2000 and apart from their win against England in 2006, the only other successes have come against West Indies and New Zealand, who are both among the bottom-ranked teams in the Test rankings.

Sangakkara has been Sri Lanka's stand-out batsman in away games and averages a highly creditable 45.16. While he averages 67.40 in the three wins, he has not done too badly in defeats (average of 35.50). The same is not true with the rest of the batsmen. Jayawardene, on the verge of 10000 Test runs, has not been a force outside home. Jayawardene has done well in drawn Tests (average of 48.00 with three centuries) which have mostly been played out on flatter tracks but on pitches with some juice, he has failed far too frequently. In 17 losses, Jayawardene averages just 22.55 with one century. Undoubtedly, his lack of runs in important matches has been one of the biggest reasons for Sri Lanka's poor Test run overseas. Tillakaratne Dilshan and Thilan Samaraweera, two of Sri Lanka's best batsmen in home conditions, have also struggled overseas and average just 26.00 and 30.28 respectively in losses.

Sri Lanka's top-order batsmen in overseas matches* since 2000
Batsman Matches (overall) Runs/avg (overall) 100/50 (overall) Wins Runs/avg (wins) 100/50 (wins) Losses Runs/avg (losses) 100/50 (losses)
Kumar Sangakkara 29 2394/45.16 6/13 3 337/67.40 1/2 16 1096/35.35 2/5
Mahela Jayawardene 30 1828/32.07 5/3 3 245/40.83 1/0 17 767/22.55 1/1
Thilan Samaraweera 14 799/34.73 1/6 1 56/56.00 0/1 7 424/30.28 1/2
Tillakaratne Dilshan 17 958/31.93 1/6 2 64/16.00 0/0 8 390/26.00 0/4

*Performances outside subcontinent (including matches in UAE and excluding matches in Zimbabwe)

South Africa have not had the same success in Durban (5-4 since 2000) in the last few years as they have in Cape Town (10-2) and Centurion (10-1). In the same period they have only a 5-4 record in Durban. While Jacques Kallis has enjoyed the conditions in Durban and scored at an average of 61.37 at the venue, Graeme Smith and Hashim Amla have found the going far tougher. Smith, who averages nearly 49 in matches played at other home venues, has an average of just 33.00 in his last 17 innings in Durban. However, in his last six Tests at the venue his average has been considerably higher (43.88). Amla, one of South Africa's top players in Tests and ODIs in the last few years, has hardly done anything of note in Durban. He has scored just 171 runs at 15.54 in his 11 innings (since 2000) but has averaged 51.68 in the same period at other home venues.

AB de Villiers, who top scored in the first Test of the series with 99, has a very different record from those of Smith and Amla. He averages 36.58 at other home venues since 2000 but a fairly impressive 44.81 in Durban. The out-of-form Ashwell Prince has also found the conditions at the venue to his liking and averages 50.27 in his last five Tests.

Philander, who became only the fourth bowler to pick up four or more five-wicket hauls in his first three Tests, is yet to play his first match in Durban. His opening-bowling partner Steyn, however, has played four matches picking up 21 wickets at a superb average of 21.90. Steyn has been similarly effective at other home venues too picking up 127 wickets at 21.20 in the same period. Morne Morkel, the least impressive of the South African pace bowlers in the first Test, averages 34.23 in Durban but a much better 25.51 at other home grounds.

South Africa's batsmen in Durban and other venues (since 2005)
Batsman Innings (Durban) Avg, 100/50 (Durban) Innings (other venues) Avg, 100/50 (other venues)
Jacques Kallis 17 61.37, 4/4 82 65.73, 16/20
Hashim Amla 11 15.54, 0/1 40 51.68, 8/9
Graeme Smith 17 33.00, 1/2 65 48.69, 9/14
AB de VIlliers 13 44.81, 1/4 52 36.58, 4/10
Ashwell Prince 11 44.66, 2/0 49 45.27, 5/6

In the last two matches in Durban, visiting spinners played a huge role in the success. While Graeme Swann spun England to an innings win with match figures of 9 for 164, Harbhajan Singh gave India a vital lead in the first innings with a burst of 4 for 10. Although it has been a venue that has always favoured pace bowling, spinners have also had a fairly productive run. Their average (30.37) and strike rate (61.2) in Durban are the best among all venues in South Africa in Tests since 2000. The pace bowling stats are heavily skewed in favour of the home fast bowlers. While the South African pace bowlers have 162 wickets at 27.81, visiting fast bowlers have managed 104 wickets at a far higher average of 40.00.

As is the case with most South African venues, batting has become progressively easier as the match goes on. In the first innings, while the home batsmen average 34, visiting batsmen have struggled averaging just 24.17. The second and third innings have seen the most centuries and the best averages. Unlike in Johannesburg and Centurion, where the fourth-innings averages are 28.16 and 25.39, batting in Durban in the final innings has not been that difficult (average of 32.50).

Innings-wise and pace-spin stats in Durban since 2000
Inns number Runs per wicket 100/50 Pace (wickets/avg) Spin (Wickets/avg)
1st inns 29.47 6/17 86/28.59 22/31.09
2nd inns 34.05 10/12 78/35.01 20/30.85
3rd inns 33.95 9/7 66/33.42 24/31.12
4th inns 32.50 1/7 36/35.27 17/27.82
Overall 32.37 26/43 266/32.57 83/30.37