South Africa v Sri Lanka, 3rd Test, Johannesburg January 11, 2017

Bat slow or fast, but concentrate - Mathews

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'Whether you score 100 off 300 balls or whether you score 100 off 70 balls it doesn't matter, as long as you work your game out' - Angelo Mathews © AFP

Sure, batsmen have sped their way to doom, and of course, they have played too many loose shots, but switching to all-out defence is not necessarily the answer either, Angelo Mathews said ahead of the third Test.

Aside from opener Kaushal Silva, and perhaps Dimuth Karunaratne as well, each of the other batsmen in Sri Lanka's top order is of an attacking bent. Dinesh Chandimal, Kusal Mendis and Dhananjaya de Silva all strike at more than 60 in domestic cricket. And though Angelo Mathews and Upul Tharanga are capable of defending (Mathews in particular), they have generally fared better when they have attacked.

The Sri Lanka top order knows that they must pare back some of those attacking instincts, but Mathews is also wary that his men don't trim so much from their natural game that there is not much of it left.

"You've got to play on merit," Mathews said. "When the bowler is bowling well you've got to respect him, and whenever you get the loose ball, you try and capitalise on it. It's a bit of a balance of both. You can't go negative, you can't go over-positive. Cricket is a game where you have to score runs. Whether you score 100 off 300 balls or whether you score 100 off 70 balls it doesn't matter, as long as you work your game out. You just need to score runs.

"Yes, we have been repeating the same mistakes, which is frustrating. But we've got a set of players who are looking to score runs and I always encourage that. And yes, by looking to score runs in these conditions maybe you can get a good ball. Even if the ball is not good enough, you can still get out because of the conditions."

Sri Lanka's batsmen have employed varying approaches to this Test series, none of which have worked © Associated Press

The prescription that Mathews has repeated this series is increased concentration. All but two batsmen had starts in the second innings at Newlands, and yet, none could cross 50, and the team total fell short of 225.

"In these conditions, when you get a 20 and a 30 you suddenly feel that you're set, you can still get a good ball," Mathews said. "We need to try and push hard and concentrate hard. Whoever gets a start needs to convert that into a big innings."

Mathews suggested that Sri Lanka would retain the same XI from the Newlands Test, and also that Kusal Mendis and de Silva will remain at No. 3 and No. 4. Mendis has had more success at second drop, and de Silva has been good in the lower middle order, but a vacuum in the no. 3 position has forced both batsmen up.

"The selectors are looking long-term," Mathews said. "Yes, they are two of the best batsmen we have. They are young and fearless and they want to score runs. Dhananjaya is quite matured - he has played a lot of first-class games, but Kusal Mendis hasn't. These are extremely talented guys and they are still learning the game. As they play more Tests, they will definitely keep learning."

All Sri Lanka's batsmen will have to have done plenty of learning in the break between Tests. The Wanderers track is reputed to be one of the quickest and bounciest in the world, and though perhaps not as green for this Test as it has often been, still retains a covering of grass.

"It looks a lot greener than the previous two wickets, so obviously there will be swing seam and bounce right throughout the Test match, which we kind of expect," Mathews said. "We've always expected a greentop when we tour South Africa. We've got to play on whatever we get. We will not complain or make a fuss about it."

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

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  • CricketChat on January 12, 2017, 15:23 GMT

    Shouldn't Mathews ask his bowlers as well to concentrate more? They are just about to be batted out of the test. SA on course to a 600+ score in their 1st innings.

  • Thushaa on January 12, 2017, 12:30 GMT

    Actual Grass-Root situation in Srilanka, is that no local is interested in the teams performance now and they dont even turn on the TV after Day-1 of a test match. They are fed up with countless failures of this unit, and the undying faith of the people is gone.. Either the team has to be flashy-entertaining (ie. Westindies) Or consistent(like SA). The case seems hopeless for SLC and the Fans.. Good thing that there is no other National level game, that is available currently in the country, else there will be no one to watch the TV ads even.

  • Thushaa on January 12, 2017, 12:19 GMT

    For a Team to be watchable, both entertainment and proactive thinking counts. You cannot ask a National team to be 'Entertaining' ,but they should realized that. Sadly its abundantly clear that SL team has lost the fan base in Srilanka. No one is really interested in the national team and its repeated failures. I don't think Cricket flavor will remain in the island nation, if things goes like this. Sad and pathetic team to say the least. The team should realize that they Can exists if only a real Local-fan-base exists. No wonder countries like Bangla, India has a ever-growing talent pool.

  • cricfan83807974 on January 12, 2017, 7:48 GMT

    need to improve. dimuth and koushal should be out from the team. tharanga and new opener should be in a team.

  • Aneshthered on January 12, 2017, 7:33 GMT

    Expecting a good fight from the Sri Lankans...Gonna be a spinners paradise after day 3, hope they last!

  •   Cricinfouser on January 12, 2017, 2:53 GMT

    Cricket is a game where both example and proactive leadership counts. You cannot ask people to bat the way you want but guide them. That can come from understanding the personal SWOT of each player and building a SPIN for match each day. There is no one size fit all in this game.

  • Niro Dissanayake on January 12, 2017, 2:05 GMT

    My team - Kaushal Silva and Tharanga to open. Karunaratne at 3 if one of the openers goes within the first 15 overs. Mendis @ 4, chandi @5, De Silva @6, matthews @7, herath @8, lakmal @9, chameera @10, kumara @11. Mathews @7 along with herath who is becoming quite solid to marshall the tailenders and get another 100 runs or so to the total. The first 3 batsmen should be able to blunt the new ball and put at least 100 runs on the board between them and allow the middle order to accumalate playing their natural attacking style.

  • Gravity_down on January 12, 2017, 0:59 GMT

    They really need to concentrate. Need to master the art of patience. Show SA that you can learn fast to play on a green top. If you somehow draw this game that will be a victory.

  • sanj747 on January 12, 2017, 0:47 GMT

    Tharanga should be in this team. Selections are an issue. The openers failed at home as well against Australia. The going gets very tough away from home. Series losses here and in Eng and NZ have shown have far back SL have gone. As they say when the going gets tough the tough get going. Are there any tough people in this team. Time for all and sundry to stand up.

  • cricfan27300273 on January 11, 2017, 22:01 GMT

    You need to give the control and thus the iluusion of responsibility to the youngsters now so that they are with a focused mind. Othewise they will be all at sea. Till this is fixed, no hope for improvements from the youngsters.

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