South Africa in Sri Lanka 2014 July 2, 2014

South Africa's humbling lesson from 2006

South Africa last played a Test series in Sri Lanka in 2006. What Hashim Amla should remember from then is that they remained in good spirits despite the heavy losses on the field and the civil war raging around them
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The last time South Africa played a Test match in Sri Lanka was the year bird flu flapped its way across East Asia, Italy won the World Cup and Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt had the first of their three biological children. But perhaps more tellingly, the civil war was still raging in Sri Lanka in 2006. There would be cricket but it was on a collision course with real life. The South African team would have to concern themselves with both those things.

Naturally, the first was their main focus initially. It had to be considering the state of the South African team that traveled to Sri Lanka. About eight weeks before the team was due to leave, CSA announced Jacques Kallis was unlikely to be able to go with them because he would be recovering from surgery to repair tendinitis in his elbow. Shortly after that, South Africa learnt Shaun Pollock would not be able to play in the first Test because he had to remain home for the birth of his second child.

That was bad enough but it would get worse. About two-and-half weeks before the flight to Colombo, Graeme Smith tore ligaments in his ankle while running and was ruled out as well. Ashwell Prince was asked to stand in as captain, a significant appointment in a country with a racially-divided past because he was the first South African of colour to lead the team.

Sounds familiar? Of course it does.

South Africa are without Kallis and Smith this time as well but their absence is permanent. They are also under a captain of colour again and he is permanent too.

Hashim Amla may not have time to consider the long-term implications of accepting the role he was once so reluctant to take up because his immediate task is more pressing. Sri Lanka is the place where South Africa last lost a Test series away from home when Prince's depleted side was defeated.

What Amla, who was part of that team, should remember from then is that they remained in good spirits despite the heavy losses and the incident in which Dean Jones called him a "terrorist" on air during a commentary stint.

"The mood was pretty festive. We had a good few youngsters in the squad who had a proper introduction to the rigours of subcontinental cricket there; guys like Hashim, Dale Steyn and AB de Villiers who are so integral to our current squad," Gordon Templeton, the media officer on that tour, told ESPNcricinfo. "And then we also had a good mix of experience- Mark Boucher, Makhaya Ntini and Andre Nel - so we didn't feel like we had no one senior."

While South Africa were completely outplayed in the first Test, after the massive 624-run partnership between Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene condemned them to an innings-and-153-run loss, Templeton prefers to remember the next match where Dale Steyn claimed his first five-for away from home.

"He was so young, just in his eighth match and he was very nervous," Templeton said. "After he took those wickets, he had to address the media, one of the first times he was in front of a foreign press contingent. It was a good learning experience."

Gaining knowledge was one of the main themes of that tour. South Africa were confined to Colombo because of the ongoing violence in Sri Lanka, specifically in the north, and one of the first things they had to come to terms with was visiting a country at war. "From the moment we arrived, we could see there was a heightened security presence. We had military and police around us all the way from the airport to the hotel, much more than normal," Templeton said.

Because the squad could not explore the other regions of the country, they had to make do with excursions close to the capital. Far from feeling cabin-feverish, Templeton remembers the interest in discovering local culture soared. "We went to one of the Ceylon Tea Plantations, which was quite interesting especially because a lot of us drank that tea," Templeton said. "And then we also went to the Singer factory where a lot of South African seamstresses from Cape Town had found work. We were intrigued by the connection between the two countries."

The curiosity extended to the Liberty Plaza shopping centre, where the players spent "a fair amount of their down time," according to Templeton, eating in the restaurants or buying trinkets. They would probably have been there on August 14, when the first match of a tri-series which also included India was washed out but then-coach Mickey Arthur wanted to have an indoor training session.

"Mickey felt the bowlers needed to get a good workout and he wanted a proper practice so we went ahead with that instead of taking extra time off," Templeton said. While they were training a bomb went off at the shopping centre, killing seven. The team found out when they got back to their hotel.

"It came as a complete surprise to us because we felt safe in Colombo," Goolam Rajah, the team manager at the time, said. "Nowhere that we had been in the city had we come across anyone who told us we shouldn't be there or that it was dangerous. After the bomb went off we wondered if we'd been living in a fool's paradise."

Team management met with security officials to decide what South Africa's next move would be while Rajah fielded calls from families back home. "My wife heard about it on the radio and she was frantic. She was able to get through to me to find out we were okay but she was still worried," Rajah said. "There were definitely concerns."

South Africa decided the best option was to leave and abandoned the tour. They had four more ODIs left to play, which were important for their build up to the Champions Trophy in India later that year. "We were disappointed that we couldn't play those games and we didn't want to leave a tour unfinished," Rajah said.

Arthur called the aborted tour a "disaster" and CSA organised fixtures against Zimbabwe to ensure there was game time ahead of the Champions Trophy. South Africa lost in the semi-finals to a rampant West Indies and the tournament was filed as another 'what if' in the long line of questions over performances in major competitions.

This time South Africa are again using Sri Lanka as the springboard to begin preparations for an important global event. The three ODIs mark the start of their planning for the 2015 World Cup and will see the return of Kallis to No. 3 in the batting line-up, which South Africa will build around him. Their attack contains significant variation with the inclusion of left-armer Beuran Hendricks and Vernon Philander.

Once they've tinkered with combinations in that format, they will move on to the Tests where only a series win will see them reclaim the No. 1 ranking they fought so long to gain. The fraction of a point that separates them from Australia cannot be closed with a positive result over Zimbabwe so if they do not gain it in Sri Lanka, they will have to wait until the home series against West Indies in December-January to begin searching for it again.

Those are two big tasks which will put cricket firmly at the forefront of South Africa's thoughts when their tour of the island begins. They've been back for the World T20 in 2012 and a limited-overs rubber last year but this will be different and again, they will be confronted with all the signs of real life, from their own rebuilding to that of the country they are visiting.

Last year, Amla was struck by how the country had recovered from the 2004 tsunami. He said it left him feeling "humbled." For a team in a time of transition, that is not the worst sentiment to have as they embark on a new era.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • on July 5, 2014, 4:12 GMT

    If Sri Lankan wickets can be dismissed as virtual roads with no assistance to SA pace bowlers, how come up SL pacemen have done far better than SA counterparts in previous tours? I was at the SSC grounds for most of the duration of the test matches played there in 2004 and 2006 tours. In 2004, Sri Lanka were without Murali in that match. The batting collapse of SA in first innings was triggered by part time spin of Sanath Jayasuriya who took 5 wickets. In the second innings when SL were required to bowl out SA in a day and a bit after rain interrupted most of the 4th day, it was Vaas with 6 wickets and Malinga with 3 wickets who bowled SA out for 179. In 2006, having enjoyed best of batting conditions on day 1 SA were blown away for 169. Although Murali took 4 wickets it was military medium pace of Maharoof with 4 wickets and Dilhara with 2 wickets who knifed through SA batting order. This was the same wicket Mahela and Sanga put on that epic 624 run world record stand.

  • Bheshu on July 4, 2014, 20:44 GMT

    there would be no miracles, i strongly believe SA will win

  • on July 4, 2014, 16:21 GMT

    truth is SA are world class chokers . that's a fact. never won a world cup. struggle playing in SL for ever. nothing will change even this time though. if it's not a white wash it will be 2-1 sl winning in ODIs and 1-0 in test series.

  • din7 on July 4, 2014, 11:52 GMT

    this is what the problem has been for SA, when they were playin superbly durin 2008-2014 they didnt get a tour in sri else i dont think sri could have beaten a team comprising of rampaging steyn, morkel, philander with strong batting in smith, amla, kallis, abd....we cant think of sri beatin them also kallis wasnt even there in 2006 tour else it might have been a different story as we all know how great batsman of spin kallis is.....anyhow though with smith and kallis gone....SA still have chance but with sri winnin in eng their confidence will be high...so it seems even- stevens, it may be a drawn series

  • on July 4, 2014, 10:10 GMT

    We Welcome The South African Cricket Team. The Series Will Be Super To Watch. Yes Cancel The One Dayers And Make It A 5 Test Series. Good Luck To Both Teams.

  • RapidCommentsPlz on July 4, 2014, 9:24 GMT

    Should be an easy win for SA!! steyn hammering and piling up wickets for his team !! And Hasim and ABDV scoring tons against them!!

  • on July 4, 2014, 8:16 GMT

    @Tsotsi SA lost test series in 2003 . so correct your record it was 1-0.

  • Tsotsi on July 4, 2014, 7:32 GMT

    @Sathesh_Krishnan - explain to me how South Africa have struggled in the sub-continent in general? the only country that they have had any significant trouble in is Sri Lanka. They have the best record in India in the last 15 years (they have won a series and only losing one) and they have not lost a series in Pakistan...so please tell me where they have struggled? This is the problem with couch critics, their views are strongly influenced by hearsay and misinformation.

  • Kavum on July 4, 2014, 5:03 GMT

    Whoever scheduled this tour during the rainy season must be given a special award (not!). All matches should be played outside the Central/South-West quadrant in Hambantota and Dambulla. Which is why these stadia were built in the first place. Mind you the winds in Suriyaweva (Hambantota) are vicious this time of year and teams will have to deal with it.

  • on July 4, 2014, 4:00 GMT

    SA is good compare to 2006 team. But SL also grown up with recent victories. Also condition atmosphere all suit for SL players. Interesting to see sanga and mahela experiences to handle SA seam bowlers with confidence srilankan captain Mathew. Herath will be handful in SL conditions sure

  • on July 5, 2014, 4:12 GMT

    If Sri Lankan wickets can be dismissed as virtual roads with no assistance to SA pace bowlers, how come up SL pacemen have done far better than SA counterparts in previous tours? I was at the SSC grounds for most of the duration of the test matches played there in 2004 and 2006 tours. In 2004, Sri Lanka were without Murali in that match. The batting collapse of SA in first innings was triggered by part time spin of Sanath Jayasuriya who took 5 wickets. In the second innings when SL were required to bowl out SA in a day and a bit after rain interrupted most of the 4th day, it was Vaas with 6 wickets and Malinga with 3 wickets who bowled SA out for 179. In 2006, having enjoyed best of batting conditions on day 1 SA were blown away for 169. Although Murali took 4 wickets it was military medium pace of Maharoof with 4 wickets and Dilhara with 2 wickets who knifed through SA batting order. This was the same wicket Mahela and Sanga put on that epic 624 run world record stand.

  • Bheshu on July 4, 2014, 20:44 GMT

    there would be no miracles, i strongly believe SA will win

  • on July 4, 2014, 16:21 GMT

    truth is SA are world class chokers . that's a fact. never won a world cup. struggle playing in SL for ever. nothing will change even this time though. if it's not a white wash it will be 2-1 sl winning in ODIs and 1-0 in test series.

  • din7 on July 4, 2014, 11:52 GMT

    this is what the problem has been for SA, when they were playin superbly durin 2008-2014 they didnt get a tour in sri else i dont think sri could have beaten a team comprising of rampaging steyn, morkel, philander with strong batting in smith, amla, kallis, abd....we cant think of sri beatin them also kallis wasnt even there in 2006 tour else it might have been a different story as we all know how great batsman of spin kallis is.....anyhow though with smith and kallis gone....SA still have chance but with sri winnin in eng their confidence will be high...so it seems even- stevens, it may be a drawn series

  • on July 4, 2014, 10:10 GMT

    We Welcome The South African Cricket Team. The Series Will Be Super To Watch. Yes Cancel The One Dayers And Make It A 5 Test Series. Good Luck To Both Teams.

  • RapidCommentsPlz on July 4, 2014, 9:24 GMT

    Should be an easy win for SA!! steyn hammering and piling up wickets for his team !! And Hasim and ABDV scoring tons against them!!

  • on July 4, 2014, 8:16 GMT

    @Tsotsi SA lost test series in 2003 . so correct your record it was 1-0.

  • Tsotsi on July 4, 2014, 7:32 GMT

    @Sathesh_Krishnan - explain to me how South Africa have struggled in the sub-continent in general? the only country that they have had any significant trouble in is Sri Lanka. They have the best record in India in the last 15 years (they have won a series and only losing one) and they have not lost a series in Pakistan...so please tell me where they have struggled? This is the problem with couch critics, their views are strongly influenced by hearsay and misinformation.

  • Kavum on July 4, 2014, 5:03 GMT

    Whoever scheduled this tour during the rainy season must be given a special award (not!). All matches should be played outside the Central/South-West quadrant in Hambantota and Dambulla. Which is why these stadia were built in the first place. Mind you the winds in Suriyaweva (Hambantota) are vicious this time of year and teams will have to deal with it.

  • on July 4, 2014, 4:00 GMT

    SA is good compare to 2006 team. But SL also grown up with recent victories. Also condition atmosphere all suit for SL players. Interesting to see sanga and mahela experiences to handle SA seam bowlers with confidence srilankan captain Mathew. Herath will be handful in SL conditions sure

  • Lion_96 on July 4, 2014, 3:55 GMT

    @Jamie Moneghan. Absolutely agree with you mate. I have never understood the scheduling of Bilateral Series between certain countries. Sri Lanka havent played a Test in West Indies in 2008! Each country (top 8) should face each other in a bilateral series of 3 Tests (minimum), 3 ODIs & 3 T20Is once every two years. All Bilateral ODI Series should be limited to 3 matches.

  • kc69 on July 3, 2014, 21:11 GMT

    The strategy will be simple create slow and spin friendly dustbowl tracks.I dont expect much from the pace combination of SA and neither they have good spin attack.Sanga and Mahel would easily better their career stats unless some miracle happens for SA in bowling.

  • v8v8v8 on July 3, 2014, 20:45 GMT

    Noone mentioned the great cricket SL just delivered in Eng? They must be on a high and SA on a bit of a low after losing vs Oz (and Smithy retiring).

    I'm really keen on the Test series - should be a great watch. Let's cancel the ODI's and make it a 5 test series...

  • TommytuckerSaffa on July 3, 2014, 19:59 GMT

    M.Morkel should be dropped for Abbott.

  • TommytuckerSaffa on July 3, 2014, 19:39 GMT

    I think with the advent of the IPL and the amount of cricket that is now played in Asia makes the transition far less daunting that it once was.

  • Greatest_Game on July 3, 2014, 18:51 GMT

    @ Jamie Moneghan commented "It's taken 8 years for SA to tour Sri Lanka? What a joke that is as just shows how unbalanced the whole scheduling is."

    SA left the tour early in 06 because of the bombing. Civil conflict in SL concluded in mid 2009. SA were invited to play tests in 2013 & Sri Lanka toured SA in 2011. SL asked to postpone the 2013 tests to 2015, and to host only T20 & ODIs in 2013, which they did. The tests were then rescheduled again, from 2015 to 2014.

    Sri Lanka hosted five tours in 2001, one in 2002. two each in 2003, 04, 05, 06 & 07, one tour in 08, two in 09 & 10, one in 2011, three in 2012, one in 2013.

    Aus toured SL in 83, 92, 99, 04, then in 11. SA toured in 93, 2000, 2004, 2006 & 2013 postponed to 2014. Seems many factors affect the schedule!

    Here is a link to all test tours of Sri Lanka.

    http://stats.espncricinfo.com/ci/engine/team/8.html?class=1;home_or_away=1;template=results;type=team;view=series

  • proteasfire on July 3, 2014, 18:47 GMT

    Going to be a big test for SA. SL are obvious favorites given SA's struggle in sub continent in general. Although the test team looks better this time than the last one SA still have a mountain to climb if they are to beat SL in home. ODI is strongly in favour of SL given SA's poor performance last year and a weak side. Kallis return (if fit) should boost SA's chances otherwise it will be SL all over again. Tests will be a draw 1-1. Good luck to both sides!!

  • on July 3, 2014, 18:32 GMT

    SL is high on confidence at the moment since they just beat a fairly good Eng team. SA has a good team but does not have the confidence they have. SA definitely have the advantage. Good luck to both teams

  • on July 3, 2014, 17:42 GMT

    In 2011 South Africa tour after getting thrashed by innings in the first test, everyone expected Sri Lanka to get steam rolled in the rest of the series. However, SL bounced back wonderfully against all odds in Durban to register a comprehensive win. They would have earned a drawn series had Dilshan had the wisdom of electing to bat after winning the toss in the final test. As such after putting into bat SA went on to make massive score and SL were always playing catch-up cricket and ended up loosing by 10 wickets. That was in SA's own back yard against the fearsome attack of Steyn, Philander and Morkel. Although Thilan Samaraweera, a key batsman in that series with 2 centuries is no more, Angelo Mathews fresh from his heroic exploits in England is there to marshal the middle order. The bowling collectively as a unit is at its best. SL should give a tight contest to SA in the test series. ODIs could go either way, all depending on how SL bowlers restrict Amla, AB & co.

  • on July 3, 2014, 15:40 GMT

    It's taken 8 years for SA to tour Sri Lanka? What a joke that is as just shows how unbalanced the whole scheduling is.

  • rizwan1981 on July 3, 2014, 14:00 GMT

    Sri Lanka is grateful for SA touring when the civil war was raging in the country ( as alluded by Firdose )

    This time around Murali is not around to spin a web - Sri Lanka will also miss SANATH's electrifying starts ( I believe he scored 96 runs in the first session of a test match ) . The match at SSC will be a draw and whoever wins the toss at Galle will emerge victorious .

  • HennopsRiverEnd on July 3, 2014, 12:32 GMT

    Let's hope Steyn, Morkel and Philander are up for it! Should be a good test for both teams

  • Sinhaya on July 3, 2014, 0:27 GMT

    Well South Africa are a far better team than the one which came to SL in 2006 and Sri Lanka are weaker in tests now than in 2006 mainly due to our average bowling attack. I am sure the tests will be exciting for sure as SA will come down hard at us, but ODIs I feel are in Sri Lanka's favor.

  • Lion_96 on July 2, 2014, 23:41 GMT

    South Africans hardly play any cricket in Sri Lanka. Would have love to have seen a longer tour. Preferably, a three Test Series. But this will be tough series for South Africa. They have traditionally suffered in performances here. And with Smith and Kallis retiring, it would have made this task all the more harder. But I expect them to be more competitive than they were last year when they lost 4-1. Sri Lanka have had a brilliant 2014 so far and they are certainly favorites for this Series. Expect a good competitive ODI and Test Series from these two teams.

  • on July 2, 2014, 20:45 GMT

    I remember the 2006 series quite well. Mahela's 374 and Sanga's 287 set up the Lankans for a massive wins. The South Africans really struggled in Sri Lankan conditions and Murali was, as usual, showing his magic. The 2nd test was a really close one and it could have gone either way (SL won it). SA have a stronger bowling attack this time with the likes of Steyn and Philander. In 2006, Pollock was past his best and Steyn was still very young and raw. AB and Amla have developed into 2 of the best batsmen in the world in the last 8 years. Kallis and Smith will be missed for sure once again.

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  • on July 2, 2014, 20:45 GMT

    I remember the 2006 series quite well. Mahela's 374 and Sanga's 287 set up the Lankans for a massive wins. The South Africans really struggled in Sri Lankan conditions and Murali was, as usual, showing his magic. The 2nd test was a really close one and it could have gone either way (SL won it). SA have a stronger bowling attack this time with the likes of Steyn and Philander. In 2006, Pollock was past his best and Steyn was still very young and raw. AB and Amla have developed into 2 of the best batsmen in the world in the last 8 years. Kallis and Smith will be missed for sure once again.

  • Lion_96 on July 2, 2014, 23:41 GMT

    South Africans hardly play any cricket in Sri Lanka. Would have love to have seen a longer tour. Preferably, a three Test Series. But this will be tough series for South Africa. They have traditionally suffered in performances here. And with Smith and Kallis retiring, it would have made this task all the more harder. But I expect them to be more competitive than they were last year when they lost 4-1. Sri Lanka have had a brilliant 2014 so far and they are certainly favorites for this Series. Expect a good competitive ODI and Test Series from these two teams.

  • Sinhaya on July 3, 2014, 0:27 GMT

    Well South Africa are a far better team than the one which came to SL in 2006 and Sri Lanka are weaker in tests now than in 2006 mainly due to our average bowling attack. I am sure the tests will be exciting for sure as SA will come down hard at us, but ODIs I feel are in Sri Lanka's favor.

  • HennopsRiverEnd on July 3, 2014, 12:32 GMT

    Let's hope Steyn, Morkel and Philander are up for it! Should be a good test for both teams

  • rizwan1981 on July 3, 2014, 14:00 GMT

    Sri Lanka is grateful for SA touring when the civil war was raging in the country ( as alluded by Firdose )

    This time around Murali is not around to spin a web - Sri Lanka will also miss SANATH's electrifying starts ( I believe he scored 96 runs in the first session of a test match ) . The match at SSC will be a draw and whoever wins the toss at Galle will emerge victorious .

  • on July 3, 2014, 15:40 GMT

    It's taken 8 years for SA to tour Sri Lanka? What a joke that is as just shows how unbalanced the whole scheduling is.

  • on July 3, 2014, 17:42 GMT

    In 2011 South Africa tour after getting thrashed by innings in the first test, everyone expected Sri Lanka to get steam rolled in the rest of the series. However, SL bounced back wonderfully against all odds in Durban to register a comprehensive win. They would have earned a drawn series had Dilshan had the wisdom of electing to bat after winning the toss in the final test. As such after putting into bat SA went on to make massive score and SL were always playing catch-up cricket and ended up loosing by 10 wickets. That was in SA's own back yard against the fearsome attack of Steyn, Philander and Morkel. Although Thilan Samaraweera, a key batsman in that series with 2 centuries is no more, Angelo Mathews fresh from his heroic exploits in England is there to marshal the middle order. The bowling collectively as a unit is at its best. SL should give a tight contest to SA in the test series. ODIs could go either way, all depending on how SL bowlers restrict Amla, AB & co.

  • on July 3, 2014, 18:32 GMT

    SL is high on confidence at the moment since they just beat a fairly good Eng team. SA has a good team but does not have the confidence they have. SA definitely have the advantage. Good luck to both teams

  • proteasfire on July 3, 2014, 18:47 GMT

    Going to be a big test for SA. SL are obvious favorites given SA's struggle in sub continent in general. Although the test team looks better this time than the last one SA still have a mountain to climb if they are to beat SL in home. ODI is strongly in favour of SL given SA's poor performance last year and a weak side. Kallis return (if fit) should boost SA's chances otherwise it will be SL all over again. Tests will be a draw 1-1. Good luck to both sides!!

  • Greatest_Game on July 3, 2014, 18:51 GMT

    @ Jamie Moneghan commented "It's taken 8 years for SA to tour Sri Lanka? What a joke that is as just shows how unbalanced the whole scheduling is."

    SA left the tour early in 06 because of the bombing. Civil conflict in SL concluded in mid 2009. SA were invited to play tests in 2013 & Sri Lanka toured SA in 2011. SL asked to postpone the 2013 tests to 2015, and to host only T20 & ODIs in 2013, which they did. The tests were then rescheduled again, from 2015 to 2014.

    Sri Lanka hosted five tours in 2001, one in 2002. two each in 2003, 04, 05, 06 & 07, one tour in 08, two in 09 & 10, one in 2011, three in 2012, one in 2013.

    Aus toured SL in 83, 92, 99, 04, then in 11. SA toured in 93, 2000, 2004, 2006 & 2013 postponed to 2014. Seems many factors affect the schedule!

    Here is a link to all test tours of Sri Lanka.

    http://stats.espncricinfo.com/ci/engine/team/8.html?class=1;home_or_away=1;template=results;type=team;view=series