Sri Lanka v South Africa, 2nd Test, SSC, 2nd day July 25, 2014

SA's slow approach could benefit us - Jayawardene

Sri Lanka learned of the perils of defensive cricket earlier in the year in Sharjah, when they batted cautiously through the Test, as they aimed to preserve their 1-0 series lead. On that occasion, Pakistan blew them away on the final day, wiping out four days of Sri Lanka's slow work.

As South Africa crawled at a run rate of 1.88 in the 52 overs they faced on day two, Mahela Jayawardene issued a warning to the opposition: negativity would only play into Sri Lanka's hands.

"The way the South Africans batted today - in 50 overs they scored only 90 runs - that is encouraging for us," he said. "That means our 400-plus looks like 550. I'm not sure how the wicket will play tomorrow evening and the fourth day, but we need to assess that and bat them out of the contest. But they've been pretty slow today, so as long as we can keep it nice and tight and create opportunities, we might not need that many runs."

Sri Lanka have fielded three spin bowlers in the match, with Kithuruwan Vithanage's part-time legspin also available, but Jayawardene suggested breakthroughs may not come all that easy, despite the wearing pitch.

"It's going to be hard work, but we've got to be patient and make sure we hold on to our catches when they come our way. Our attitude and focus has to be on those sessions. It will be tough to score runs as well. It's not coming on to the bat. The whole point of us playing three spinners was to try and see if we can get something out of it. Hopefully tomorrow morning we can put them under pressure. We've still got three days of cricket."

Jayawardene also defended the two young middle-order batsmen who had been dropped for this match, in favour of even fresher talents. Dinesh Chandimal had had three poor innings in Tests, in addition to a woeful run in limited-overs cricket, and now finds himself relegated to the Sri Lanka A team. Lahiru Thirimanne, meanwhile, has not seemed himself since becoming vice-captain ahead of the England tour, and was also left out at SSC.

"You do feel a lot for them. With the amount of cricket that we're playing these days, it's just that it's tough to try and be that consistent. We've all been through those bad periods. I think what the selectors are trying to do is give them a bit of a break. But they're still playing cricket. Chandi's in England now. There are a lot of opportunities coming up.

"I think they just need to take a bit of time, refocus and come back. They're still young. They've had good starts to their international careers. Everyone is trying to help them get through the tough times. Different players find their form in different ways and give them the right opportunities."

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