Geoff Marsh upbeat despite hammering
Sri Lanka have had two days to digest, dissect and debate their largest ODI defeat and their lowest ODI score. This is what they have concluded. "We have to just address all areas: our batting, bowling, fielding and mental approach to the game," Geoff Marsh, the Sri Lanka coach, said, covering the entire spectrum of cricketing skills in his analysis. "The whole game [in Paarl], we didn't play well."
Marsh's remarks summarised Sri Lanka's problems succinctly; he somehow managed to make the huge improvement they needed from the first ODI sound manageable. "We can explain the batting, it was very quick," he joked. "We didn't bowl consistently enough, we didn't build pressure and we didn't take wickets."
After Lasith Malinga dismissed Graeme Smith in the third over, Sri Lanka did not see success for more than half the innings. Twenty-six overs and 144 runs later, they were able to remove Jacques Kallis. By then, they had bled too much and the life had been drained from their attack.
"Against South Africa you've got to take early wickets; you can't allow their players to build big partnerships at the start or you are going to be chasing 300 plus," Marsh said. Malinga's burst at the end, in which he took four wickets in three overs, was the only reason Sri Lanka were not left chasing 330.
As it happened, 130 would have been enough. Pace, bounce and determination from South Africa's fast bowlers buried a Sri Lanka batting line-up that was impressive on paper but limp on the pitch.
One of Sri Lanka's chief concerns is the form of former captain Mahela Jayawardene, who has had a dismal tour. His only score of significance came in a practice one-day match against an Emerging Cape Cobras side, in which he was dropped twice on his way to 74. Tillakaratne Dilshan and Angelo Mathews have also struggled for runs, making the core of Sri Lanka's line-up, which was so impressive nine months ago during the World Cup, look fragile. Marsh, though, said he still had faith in the batsmen.
"We believe that they are only a couple of shots away from getting back into form. Our players have got fantastic records and they just need to get started and get going. We are very happy to stick with them and back them all the way."
Though Sri Lanka's experienced players have struggled on the field, Marsh said they had taken on a leadership role behind the scenes. "Although they are not scoring runs, they are still making an effort to lift the team as they did before the second Test match. As a coach, you look at that, and it's great that they are still having a huge impact."
The Durban Test match remains the only high-point of Sri Lanka's tour. After a thrashing in Centurion, the team regrouped and, within a week, were playing with more commitment and confidence. Although the win was historic - it was their first Test win in South Africa - Sri Lanka did not seem to get carried away with it, and Marsh wants to use that recovery as inspiration for an ODI series that has started in eerily similar fashion to the Tests.
"It's not as if we can't do it because we did in the second Test match. If you look at the second Test, we were consistent in all areas. We got early wickets, kept the pressure on, got our heads down against some really good bowling and got a score that our bowlers could bowl at. Nothing changes in the one-day game; we've got to get enough runs on the board to allow our bowlers to bowl South Africa out."
A simple plan, but one that will take fortitude and force to achieve. Marsh said Sri Lanka had the desire. "We've got a wonderful bunch of guys and the spirit is fantastic. If you attend our team meetings, you will see how much we want to win."
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent