South Africa v Sri Lanka, 2nd Test, Johannesburg January 10, 2017

De Silva sees opportunity in face of adversity

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'We've got to set limits for ourselves about where we are not going to score and which balls we aren't going to go after' - Dhananjaya de Silva © Associated Press

There is something quietly magnetic about Dhananjaya de Silva, and here I am not referring to those velvet legside flicks, or the sleepy six to get his first Test runs, though all of that help. There is an understated confidence about him - the way he slouches at the crease, the lateness of his strokes against even screaming pace, the simplicity of his defence. This is not a man easily ruffled, you think. He doesn't subscribe to the tattoos-and-hairdo school of millennial self-belief, for now, but the self-belief, nevertheless, is there.

Maybe this is why - or maybe it's plain old youthful naivety - but where others are sensing a whitewash, de Silva is smelling opportunity. Two days out, there is less grass on the Wanderers pitch than there had been at a similar stage at Newlands or St. George's Park. This is one of the fastest, bounciest venues in the world, but so what? If there is less seam movement, it might actually suit Sri Lanka, de Silva thinks.

"At Wanderers I think there's extra pace and bounce, but as a subcontinent nation it's the seam movement that makes things difficult for us," he said. "I think we should be able to improve on the batting side, since the pitch doesn't seam as much, from what we know. You can't tell until you play, but I'm hopeful this will be more suited to us."

Though he does self-belief, Dhananjaya has so far resisted self-delusion, and while there is hope about the conditions, he is aware of the gaping batting flaws that require addressing. On the team front, six out of seven batsmen were out playing attacking strokes on a difficult track at Newlands. At training on Tuesday, most batsmen were seen practicing the defence or the leave.

Dhananjaya de Silva was promoted to No. 4 at Newlands in a bid to find a decent No. 3 © AFP

"I don't think we need to make huge changes to the way we bat or bowl, but we do need to adjust to the situation better - we need to limit our shots," de Silva said. "We can't hit shots all around the ground like in Sri Lanka, or even Zimbabwe. We've got to set limits for ourselves about where we are not going to score and which balls we aren't going to go after.

"We do all have that confidence with the bat, but we need to fine-tune our approach. If someone starts getting a big innings, we all need to rally around him. We need to get a big enough total to give our bowlers something to defend. But I think we can give them a fight."

De Silva must be foremost among those switching to a more survivalist mentality, because seven Tests into his career, he has a new role that demands of him patience and responsibility. Although he averaged 60.60 at positions 5, 6 and 7 - where he had batted in most of his first six Tests - he was shunted up to no. 4 at Newlands thanks to a top-order reshuffle aimed at finding a decent no. 3.

"When I batted seven, a lot of the time, my job was to bat with the tail," he said. "I often try to score quick runs because the tail is vulnerable, and we need to get as many as possible for the team. When I go second drop, sometimes I can't play my strokes, because I'm trying to play a long innings. I have to stay at the wicket to get runs. I think I prefer no. 7, but this is my role."

Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. @andrewffernando

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • thusin on January 12, 2017, 17:02 GMT

    From grass-root levels SL should look at a policy change. Either they should promote Test cricket over T20 s and Promote that Or otherway around. Else the loss of public interest can't be stopped. Better to look at the policies from the start.

  • thusin on January 12, 2017, 16:29 GMT

    All the hype before a Test involving SL, goes out like the dew in the morning sun. There is no fan-base for the Lankan team with their performing at such low levels. There is no competition to watch and nothing to cheers about. From grass-root levels SLC is loosing the fan base to cricket. No one watches a test match after seeing the Day1 score with this srilankan team. Sad situation indeed.

  • ranatu1682034 on January 12, 2017, 3:43 GMT

    This is virtually a promising side with abundance of talent.There is little vulnerability shown in stroke making,lacking in application & inability to play deliveries according to its merit.Playing around the pads,and fishing for deliveries away from the body have brought negative results.Patience, application,commitment to play a longer innings should be vital.

  • Rizwan1970 on January 11, 2017, 18:45 GMT

    Exactly! Average pace of Srilankan fast men is more then SA I smell opportunity hear, only the captain and batsmen have to think little deferently

  •   Piwithuru Sannasgala on January 11, 2017, 15:08 GMT

    To get maximum out of them, Mendis should bat @ no4 /DhanJ @ no7. Since we have no hope in brittle openers, who were granted over 60 consecutive ings to hit the bottom among openers in world stage, we need experienced best batter 47av @ no3 Upul to plug the eternal hole; temperament proved with his odi world record for most number of (7) double-hundred stands,

    At Wanderers Stadium, Johannesburg the previous success for SL came in 2012 -5th odi played Vs SA. UpulT as No1 opener, dealing with pace, bounce & swing of Morkel/Steyn/Philander & Tsotsobe in SA conditions, scored (SL's 2nd best) 176 runs at 35 av @87 SR, including 2x 50+ & another fluent 46 r (7 x 4s -1x 6) @ 118 SR successfully negotiating a lethal attack at the same venue. He put up vital 72r 1st wkt stand with Dilly in 9 ov, chasing a massive 312 target helping SL to win by 2r in 49th ov @Wanderers. Although SL lost the series 3-2, it was a solid performance. This is another piece of evidence to prove Upul's worth @ Top

  • Chatty on January 11, 2017, 14:03 GMT

    It's a real shame that a man who averages 66 at No 7 is forced to bat at No 4, which he does not seem to like. I guess there isn't a lot of choice for SL. But it appears that SL are forced to cover up their weaknesses than play to their strengths. When you do so, you are always on the back foot. It is never a winning strategy. I think saying that SL batters have to adjust is way easier said than done. Everyone knows that you can't play shots all around the ground on seaming pitches. (Or at least, I hope they knew before going to SA! It would have been absurd if they did not). So, it is not lack of knowledge, rather, it is inability to adapt. It is not limited to SL of course. Put the SA batters on a spinning track and they will all start falling too. But the challenge is to adjust as much and as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, based on global (cricket) trends, the probability of successfully adjusting to alien conditions is very low.

  • Gayanath Pradeep on January 11, 2017, 12:27 GMT

    Can't understand the thinking of SL fans. The blame always goes to Mathews when they loose. But when the team wins the credit doesn't touch him.

  • ARUP on January 11, 2017, 9:02 GMT

    From the first two tests it is clear that Sri Lanka had no ambition. God only knows why they don't prepare for such pitches when you know that to beat the best you have to beat them in their backyard.

  • Anver on January 11, 2017, 7:08 GMT

    SL should play positively even in tests... its suits their style of play so why cahnge that

  • Ajith on January 11, 2017, 6:53 GMT

    SL have one final chance to resurrect themselves from the bottom of the barrel.There is only one way up which is to come up with a more dedicated & professional performance.They should not tinker further with the batting order.Let the openers carry on with Mendis,Dananjaya,Chandimal,Tharanga & Mathews to follow in that order.Hopefully they will go with 2 spinners & 2 pacies to counter the SA batting machine.Looking forward to a much improved performance by the Sri Lankans.

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