Durban win can't erase Sri Lanka's scars
There was a reason Tillakaratne Dilshan wore a smile as wide as Table Mountain after Sri Lanka had been beaten by 10 wickets and lost a series: they came to South Africa and did what no-one believed they would. They won a Test match and although they lost the series in disappointing fashion, Sri Lanka proved there is life in them still.
"Before we came here, everyone thought we couldn't win a Test outside Sri Lanka. After Murali, people said we couldn't take 20 wickets," Dilshan said. "Now, everyone knows we can do both."
That assurance fuelled by their historic win in Durban is merely the make-up covering Sri Lanka's more serious scars. In the next few days they will be exposed and studied as Sri Lanka try to digest a fourth series defeat. Dilshan was not too downcast when he issued his diagnosis: a lack of consistency and an inability to follow the plan.
"As a team, we have to take the blame," he said. "We didn't start well in Cape Town. Everyone came here with a lot of confidence. We had a good chance to draw the series but we haven't been bowling and batting consistently. We talked about a lot of things but it didn't work."
With a deficit of 203 and six wickets still standing on the fourth morning, Sri Lanka were not expected to save the match but Dilshan said they had an inkling of belief that they could. "If [Thilan] Samaraweera and Angelo [Matthews] could bat all day, we thought we can put pressure on South African batsmen."
The pair batted for a session but ultimately gave way to end Sri Lanka's resistance and open the door to the 2-1 series defeat. The end result will leave Sri Lanka with some serious questions that they will want to answer before their next outing.
Foremost in their minds will be the excellence of Samaraweera, who is not included in their one-day squad, and what role he will play in future. Sri Lanka's entire batting line-up was built on his back when he scored two centuries in two matches. Samaraweera became the third batsmen from the sub-continent, after Azhar Mahmood and Sachin Tendulkar, to score twin hundreds in South Africa and made a strong statement after being dropped from the squad for their previous series against Pakistan.
"He has batted really well," Dilshan said. "When we went to Pakistan, we tried to give the youngsters a chance but it didn't work so we brought Thilan back. He is experienced and an important player for the middle order."
Unfortunately for Sri Lanka there was little flesh to hang onto Samaraweera's strong bones. Kumar Sangakkara scored a hundred at Kinsgmead and Matthews made his best score of the tour at Newlands but the lack of support from the rest of the experienced batsmen was concerning.
Dilshan himself is to blame for not helping himself to anything meatier after getting starts. He has been excused for his failings by management and the players around him because they feel that when his risky style of play comes off, it does so in a big way. But as captain, he is expected to provide leadership and, in some circles, it is concerning that he doesn't.
"I got a good start," he said, referring to his 78 off 79 balls in the first innings of the New Year's Test. "I should have got 100 or 150 runs but I mishit. I should have batted a little longer and the second day might have been different."
The other non-firing big gun is Mahela Jayawardene who has not scored a half-century outside of Sri Lanka since late 2009. Dilshan said he expects the former captain to bounce back soon. "It's a big issue at the moment because he is one of the main batsmen. Unfortunately he didn't click but I still feel he is close to coming back," he said.
With the bulk of the top and middle order not performing up to standard it was left to the bowling all-rounders to salvage something from the Test match. Thisara Perera and Dhammika Prasad displayed some confident stroke-play but not the patience required to help the tail wag.
"We looked at the way Dale Steyn batted with AB de Villiers and our bowlers should learn from that," DIlshan said. "They have to show the right attitude. They are playing for the country and we need to get 100% out of them. We can't wait any longer now."
Dilshan believes Sri Lanka's rickety exterior is due to a crumbling foundation. His parting shot was to urge the administrators to find a way to fix Sri Lankan cricket at its core. "We have to correct our domestic structure," he said. "Of the 12 or 15 clubs only six clubs are strong so it's difficult to find good players in domestic scene."
He hinted that something resembling a franchise system would increase the competitiveness of the local scene and provide more hardened international cricketers. "After under-19 level, players go to club cricket which is not that strong, compared to South Africa, England and Australia. We have to get the structure right. There is a huge difference between club cricket and international level."
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent