Sri Lanka v South Africa, 1st ODI, Colombo July 5, 2014

SL ready for more verbal bouts if needled


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We find ways to win tough situations - Mathews

Among the lasting memories of the dramatic final day at Headingley was Sri Lanka's systematic verbal attack on Joe Root. For nearly half an hour the team fired barbs and bouncers at the batsman. Almost every player had a turn, like it was a team-building exercise at a shooting range. The celebrations at Root's wicket were as aggressive as the attitude that had preceded it.

It was a rare verbal onslaught from a side who largely play a more measured brand of cricket. Their collective outburst had come at the end of a tour in which they had felt besieged by media, administrators, the public and importantly, the opposition. Root had been among the chief agitators when England pushed for wickets towards the end of the Lord's Test. Sri Lanka did not pass up the chance to reciprocate.

As Sri Lanka wind up for another major tour, Angelo Mathews drew a line in the sand. "I don't think South Africa will have a go at us verbally, because the relationship between the teams is very good," he said. AB de Villiers and Hashim Amla seem less-inclined to whip up their troops to a frenzy like past South Africa captains have done. Even Graeme Smith had mellowed with the tide in any case.

But there was also a warning from Mathews. "We're not usually a very aggressive team on the field, but we can be. We need to control our emotions, but sometimes you've got to give it back to the opponents." Perhaps coincidentally, it was the abuse Sri Lanka received on their tour of South Africa in 2002 that helped form the "give-as-good-as-you-get" policy Mathews and his men still adhere to.

Some South Africa fast bowlers can be fired up, at times, between Vernon Philander's casual arrogance and Dale Steyn's "angry eyes". But the visitors will also probably be aware of Sri Lanka's reflex when a team-mate is under fire. The siege mentality Sri Lanka developed in England was fuel for their success there.

"When a situation occurs, we back ourselves and we back each member of the team," Mathews said. "If somebody is under pressure in the team - which happens quite a lot - you back the player and give him a lot of support. We've been doing that quite a lot in the recent past, especially in England. We've backed every decision that we've made. We've overcome those situations and we've played like a family."

In past years, Sri Lanka's on-field confrontations have not been anchored in confidence, but this team has the belief to match opponents' belligerence. They have won every trophy since February, and have 12 ODI wins for two losses this year.

"The six months that we've had - starting with the Asia Cup and the World T20 - is probably the best team environment I've been in. We just want to carry on the good things that we do. We obviously make mistakes, but the quicker you learn, the quicker you get over it. We can't get complacent thinking we've had six good months. We have to play our best cricket once again.

"We've got to balance the aggression out and not go overboard. You have to perform as well, and that's the key. You've got to do your work. I strongly believe in that. We've clicked as a team in all three departments, and we find ways of winning from tough situations. That has been the key for us."

Through the fighting talk, there was the refrain of respect for the opponents as well. South Africa have never won an ODI series in Sri Lanka, but this side bats deep and is effectively at full strength.

"South Africa have a very well-balanced team. The seven or eight batters that they've got are match-winners. They've got some really interesting bowlers, and they're a very good fielding unit. They come with an all-round package. We've got to be on our toes all the time.

"The England series is in the past now. It's history. It's done and dusted. Now we've got to move on and play our best cricket to beat the South Africans."

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • ESPN on July 8, 2014, 10:43 GMT

    Ha ha when Vern got his 5 for on debut , Watson also got a 5 for 20 so that says it all really hey about that pitch? Why do you have to go back to 2011 for stats then as that just proves Australia have taken him apart since!

  • David on July 8, 2014, 2:11 GMT

    @ Jamie Moneghan gets worked up about Vern: "Philander took 6 wickets for 365 runs during the 3 tests against Australia recently so hardly scary hey lol."

    But, in his debut match, on 9 November, 2011, he took 5 wickets for 15 runs as SA rolled Aus for 47! He put such a beat down on Aus it was their worst score in 109 years, since 29 May, 1902.

    After that SA also rolled NZ for 45, (Philander took 6 for 7,) & Pakistan for 49, so the Aus match was no freak. Interestingly, since that Aus 2011 tour, apart from Perth 2012 & Centurion 2014, when SA plays a "big 3" team it is coincidentally on a flat track - EVEN IN SA. SA expected to see roads when they toured & won series in Eng & Aus, although the dead track thing backfired on Eng at the Oval where Eng lost all 20 wickets, & SA lost only 2! However, now even at home when we play a "big 3" team SA curators suddenly, inexplicably, produce dead tracks like we have never ever seen before in South Africa!

    Wow now THAT is scary hey, lol

  • ESPN on July 6, 2014, 10:44 GMT

    Philander took 6 wickets for 365 runs during the 3 tests against Australia recently so hardly scary hey lol.

  • ESPN on July 6, 2014, 8:13 GMT

    @electric_loco_wap4. Yeah agree as Vern hardly bowled during the recent series against Australia as Warner smashed him to all parts of the ground, he looked a pretty ordinary bowler on the flat pitches that were produced.

  • sam on July 6, 2014, 4:27 GMT

    @Greatest-game - The Aussies will be last team Vern is likely to have a go at verbally.No surprise as he tends to get a stick from Aussie bats always.Also its a bit tough to do when your every other ball's getting thumped to the boundry !-:)

  • sam on July 6, 2014, 4:16 GMT

    I concur to Angelos views here.Some of S Africans esp. Steyn and Vern are not shy of giving bit of stick verbally to opposition.Which's fine as long as without crossing line.In such a case SL must not back down and bit aggro from them's not a bad thing.

  • dinesh on July 6, 2014, 3:59 GMT

    Srilanka has had great year wiinin asia cup, Wt20, and all series in england nodoubt their confidence would be high, its goin to br cracker of a series but Beware sledge steyn at ur own peril, if they do they will have to pay for it, with full strength squad SA is goin to perform qite well this time

  • Dayan on July 6, 2014, 2:36 GMT

    I am a Sri Lankan. But I have to agree with "@Shane Bond", that this unwarranted trash-talk is not nice. For one, this is not how we want to brand Sri Lankan cricket. England team deserved the aggressive banter due to their behavior on and off the field. But South Africans in the current team are people of great skill, and warrants respect all the way. You don't want to bad mouth a team that has AB, and Dale Steyn who are legendary cricketers of all time; just like we wouldn't want Sanga or Mahela to be bad mouthed. The comments from Matthews seem hostile to me, which is not representative of Sri Lankan hospitality. I don't mind having poor relationship with Eng or Aus teams because of their egos. But South Africa and New Zealand, I would respect all the way. Unless provoked, SL should have kept their mouths shut on these sensitive issues. Poor show Sri Lankan captain.

  • c on July 5, 2014, 17:53 GMT

    Bondy, as a SL I can appreciate the concern for Matthews! lol. Terms such as "neutral" and "not undermining" are noted. Matthews is a confident guy but one thing he is not is over-confident and I think it is fair to say he knows SA is not ENG. Matthews nailed it when he said the following:

    ""South Africa have a very well-balanced team. The seven or eight batters that they've got are match-winners. They've got some really interesting bowlers, and they're a very good fielding unit. They come with an all-round package. We've got to be on our toes all the time."

    Couldn't have put it any better.

    To @fazalds point, this SA team looks much better than the AUS team you refer to and, therefore, perhaps no comparisons warranted. On SA losing their No 1 ranking to AUS - that is due to OLDER games losing their significance - not necessarily based on CURRENT standing of Teams.

  • David on July 5, 2014, 15:46 GMT

    @ Shane Bond. It also seems a little daft to refer not some verbals that happened 14 years ago. The only Saffa playing then was Kallis, and he is known to be the least verbal of cricketers, so much so that he became known as "unsledgable" because he simply ignored the verbals till it drove the other side crazy.

    Under Amla's leadership, sledging from the Saffas in very unlikely. He is in the Kallis mould - does not sledge, does not respond to sledging, and there is probably no player as polite as humble in international cricket. It would not surprise me if he has a blanket "no sledging" policy as skipper.

    It would be very good to see Steyn being sledged. That just makes him angry, and the angrier he is, the more venomous he gets, & the better he bowls. When the veins on his head are about to pop is when he becomes at his most dangerous.

    Philander's response to sledging is a look of pure distain - a "you are something I just scraped off my shoe" look. It does drive the Aussies nuts!

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