Angelo Mathews has blamed shot selection in both innings for Sri Lanka's 206-run defeat in Port Elizabeth. Both South Africa's totals were higher than Sri Lanka's, and only two of the visiting batsmen mustered half-centuries. Both of those also came in improved batting conditions in the second innings.
Three of the top four were out playing attacking strokes in the first innings, while three of the top six were out to expansive shots in the second.
"I think the shot selection is key when it comes to a wicket like this and a bowling attack like this," Mathews said. "You need to concentrate really hard. You need to work really hard to score runs against these guys. There are very few opportunities to score runs. Sometimes as batters you wait for the bad ball and you don't get it for a long time. That is Test cricket. You need to concentrate really hard, stay focused, and wait for the loose one. Most of the batsmen are very young. They are still learning and finding their feet on the Test arena. We'll have to give them a chance. "
Sri Lanka would have hoped for a first-innings lead after dismissing South Africa for 286 in the first four sessions of the match. However, they slumped to 205 and gave up an 81-run lead from which Mathews said his team would always struggle to recover.
"We should have got more than 200 in the first innings. Unfortunately we didn't, so after they got a lead it was pretty hard work for us to get back into the game. Especially if you restrict them to a decent total it's very important to even it, or get a lead."
In the second innings, Sri Lanka were set 488 for victory, which was always going to be almost impossible. However the batsmen's imprudence did not help. A promising opening stand was cut short by the run-out of Dimuth Karunaratne, for example. Mathews' 75-run stand with Kusal Mendis also ended with Mendis attempted a ramp shot to a ball that was passing over his head, and managed only to send a nick through to the keeper.
"I thought we played some terrible shots in the second innings and that was our own downfall. I thought we gave away some easy dismissals. Yes, they bowled very well, but in the second innings there was a run-out and we let them back into the game."
Mathews himself top-scored for his team with a 120-ball 59 in the second innings, but the most fluent innings of Sri Lanka's match was arguably Mendis' 90-ball 58. Assured against the quicks, Mendis also swept Keshav Maharaj's left-arm spin well. His dismissal came against the general run of play, and after he had hit nine fours in the innings.
"The way Kusal Mendis batted - apart from the shot he played to get himself out - was brilliant," Mathews said. "He was so positive. He was willing to take on the bowlers and that is a plus point for us. We shouldn't back off even in these conditions. It is challenging, but we need to look to score runs."
Perhaps Sri Lanka's most salient failure of the match was Kusal Perera, who, batting at no. 3, collected scores of 7 and 6. He was especially aggressive in the first innings, attempting several expansive shots before edging a Vernon Philander ball to the keeper. That experience did not drive him to reticence in the second, when he was caught behind attempting a cut shot off Maharaj.
Mathews provided a partial "that's how he plays" defence for Perera, but was also mildly critical of his approach.
"We didn't want to change the way Kusal played, but we knew that we were up against a good quality seam attack. You can go slashing and get away with it. We didn't want to change his game because everybody talks about how when Sanath Jayasuriya started off, the way he played, and he never changed his game. Unfortunately in these conditions it wasn't the right game plan for us."
Mathews believed he had the attack to win in South Africa, even if the bowlers were inconsistent in the second innings - however he did concede that Dushmantha Chameera was not at his best. Chameera, generally the quickest Sri Lanka bowler by a distance, had been laid low by a stress fracture in his back, since May this year. He had played one competitive game before departing for this tour, and had gone wicketless in the practice match at Potchefstroom. His figures in this game were 0 for 68 and 1 for 85. He conceded his runs at 5.27 an over.
"Chameera has bowled quite a bit in the last few weeks - it's just that he's not got his rhythm back," said Mathews. "He's not bowling at his best to be honest, but he's still bowled quite ok. He's bowled 145 kph+ in the past, and he can average over 140kph. It's been a rough three months for him. He's had issues coming back as well. We should give a chance to the guy."