South Africa have picked only one frontline spinner at the SSC, and on a track as dry as this, even their opponents felt that was probably a bad move. The visitors have maintained through the series that pace is their traditional strength and that it is on pace that they will continue to depend, no matter what the conditions. But following a first day in which eight wickets went to the sole spinner in South Africa's attack, opposition batting coach Thilan Samaraweera gave a chuckle and suggested his own team had got lucky thanks to this opposition misstep.
"I was really surprised. I thought they might go with three pace bowlers and two spinners," Samaraweera said. "But they struck to their strength which is pace. I guess not having the additional spinner is good for us. When you see the scorecard, one spinner has picked up eight wickets. Probably they are short one spinner. At the moment it looks like the pitch is really spinning - but we'll have to wait for South Africa to bat to make sure. A lot of credit to Keshav Maharaj for the way he bowled to create pressure and deliver some good balls to our top order."
Although Sri Lanka lost five wickets for 41 runs during the third session, and slid from 223 for 4 to 277 for 9, Samaraweera was nevertheless happy with his team's position. "We are confident with our score. In the last six or seven overs of the day, the pitch behaved differently. The part-time offspinner Aiden Markram was getting a lot of bounce. We have to bowl [in the] right areas and if we do that, we can take wickets. After winning the toss we were looking at 270 to 300 runs. When the game goes on, it will be hard to bat in the third and fourth innings on these kind of surfaces. I am happy that we are where we are at 277 for 9. Had we been 275 for 6 we would have been even happier."
The confidence, perhaps, is down to faith not only in the senior spinners, but also in Akila Dananjaya, the allsorts offspinner, who replaced left-arm wristspinner Lakshan Sandakan in the XI. Dananjaya has played only two Tests, but has been a feature of Sri Lanka's limited-overs sides over the past ten months.
"Akila is a quality spinner and very confident about what he can do," Samaraweera said. "He is a good Test cricketer with nice loop and lot of variation. He bowls legspin, googly and his stock ball as well. He is an attacking option for us. We know that Rangana Herath is reaching the end of his career, and after a long spell, he needs a good 40 minute break. In that time we can use Akila - if he gets one wicket he will become more attacking."