Angelo Mathews has called on his batsmen to take a cue from Dean Elgar on how to bat in seaming conditions. Sri Lanka were blown away in the Newlands Test, losing by 282 runs by lunch on the fourth day.
Sri Lanka were dismissed for 110 in the first innings, and 224 in the second. In comparison, Elgar's match aggregate was 184 - 129 of those runs coming in the first innings, when the green Newlands pitch was at its freshest.
"Elgar left a lot of balls, and the way he batted is a lesson to learn for all of us," Mathews said. "Yes, it was never going to be easy on that wicket. It had a little bit of bounce and pace and seam. But as an opener, Elgar has left a lot of balls. He has scored whatever he gets off his legs. He's keeping it pretty simple. He has made us work extremely hard for his wicket and he's been in good rhythm."
Disappointingly for Sri Lanka, six of the top seven were guilty of getting out playing expansive strokes on what was quite obviously a seamers' deck. Four of the top seven fell playing attacking strokes in the first innings, and six of the top seven fell that way in the second. Kaushal Silva was the only batsman who was out playing two defensive shots. Indiscipline had plagued Sri Lanka's batting at Port Elizabeth as well.
"It's disappointing to repeat the same mistakes over two Test matches," Mathews said. "You need long hours of concentration against a quality attack like South Africa. They give you a very rare loose ball, and if you try to score runs off the good balls, you end up nicking off to the slips or the keeper.
"We've been working hard in the nets trying to leave a lot of balls. That fifth, sixth stump has been troubling our batters quite a lot. We can't just say we are used to slow, low conditions - we've got to come and play well in foreign conditions as well. Most of the teams do struggle when they go to foreign conditions - it's not only us. But we just want to concentrate on our performance. We'll make sure that we work harder. The only solution is long hours of concentration."
Part of the problem for Sri Lanka is that more aggressive batting approaches have recently paid dividends at home, where pitches are consistently bowler-friendly. Mathews had told his team to "get your runs before the good ball gets you out" in both of their recent home series against West Indies and Australia. In South Africa, however, the same outlook has paved the route to a heavy series defeat.
"Batsmanship is always about scoring runs," Mathews said. "You should have that balance - but you need patience as well as aggression. You should be able to balance it out. There will be phases when you will face a guy like Vernon Philander or Kyle Abbott who will not give you a loose ball. You need to try and work that situation out. You do need to look for the bad ball, but that is going to be very rare. We need to tighten our game more."
Mathews also took responsibility for failing to review Dhananjaya de Silva's lbw dismissal in the second innings. De Silva had been hit on the front pad by a full delivery from Kagiso Rabada, and was given out on the field. He had consulted with Mathews - the non-striking batsman - before leaving the field. Projections soon showed the ball to be missing leg stump. De Silva was on 22.
"Well, I think it was my fault," Mathews said. "I actually saw him after that shot he ended up on middle stump, so I thought he was a dead duck. To see it in real time was pretty difficult. I thought, after he hit that ball, he was in the middle of the stumps. That's why the only question I asked him was whether he hit it. He said 'no' and he was also pretty certain. It was a mistake on our part."
Mathews lauded Suranga Lakmal, who has been Sri Lanka's player of the tour so far. Lakmal claimed 4 for 69 in the second innings, and has 12 wickets at an average of 24.08 in total.
"Rangana Herath has been neutralised in these conditions, and we needed our fast bowlers to hit their straps and take responsibility. I'm glad that Suranga has been bowling extremely well in the first couple of games. He's been hitting a very good length. Even their top order has been struggling to play him - unfortunately we haven't been doing that for quite long enough."