Rangana Herath, the Sri Lanka left-arm spinner, is the bowler South Africa's batsmen will have to look out for during their upcoming three-Test series, South Africa batsman Dean Elgar has said. Elgar, who top-scored with 78 for the South African Invitation XI that played the Sri Lankans in a warm-up match in Benoni, said Herath was the most consistent bowler in an attack that lacks firepower in the pace department.
"Herath is probably the most consistent bowler for them," he told ESPNcricinfo. "He seems to have a few variations and also bowls a ball that he flicks out and which comes on a bit quicker. But, overall, their bowling is a little bit thin in the seam department. You do need seamers in South Africa; you can't just come in with spinners."
Herath had figures of 3 for 58 from 24 overs in Benoni and was the only member of Sri Lanka's attack to consistently trouble the Invitation side's batsmen and limit their scoring with an accurate line. He is a certainty in Sri Lanka's starting XI, but will need support from the pace department, which has been hit by injuries.
Regular Test bowler Suranga Lakmal was one of four quicks ruled out before Sri Lanka arrived in South Africa. Nuwan Pradeep managed just 10 deliveries in the tour match before leaving the field with a torn hamstring that threatens to rule him out of the first Test and maybe the series. No replacement has been named yet but the Sri Lankan team management hinted they were hopeful that of one of Nuwan Kulasekera, Dhammika Prasad or Shaminda Eranga would recover from their own injuries in time for the first Test.
According to Elgar, Sri Lanka will need to go in with three seamers despite the injuries. "They are a few seamers short. If they are going to play two or three spinners, it might not be the right way to approach the longer version of the game in South Africa. The wickets have always got something in it so you must try to go in with a seam-based attack."
Elgar faced Sri Lanka's second spinner Ajantha Mendis with ease and said he did not struggle to pick his carrom ball. "He started with six carrom balls to me. So after that it was easy to pick the rest that he bowled, and he bowled plenty. The pitch didn't allow that ball to play any effect because it just skidded on. You can pick it from the way it comes out of his hand: he flicks his fingers, which is different from when he bowls his offspinner or his googly. He started with a lot of carrom balls. When he was under pressure, he went back to his normal ball."
Mendis enjoyed early success in his career but has been less effective of late and Elgar said watching footage of him bowl helped teams deal with him. "There's a lot of footage of him now and you can have a look at that. It took a few different variations that he bowled to us and then after that it was pretty easy to pick him. I spent a bit of time at the crease so it became easier for me to pick him."
Elgar was one of the few players in the South African XI that was already familiar with members of the Sri Lankan team. He played against allrounder Angelo Mathews at Under-19 level and rated him as a "steady bowler." Mathews bowled his first overs in a first-class match in over a year during the game in Benoni. Elgar said Mathews could be key "but it will depend on what his limitations are after his injury [torn quadriceps]."
Dilhara Fernando, the most experienced of Sri Lanka's seamers, can also be tough to handle, Elgar said. "Fernando is a skiddy bowler; he will keep you busy if he finds a good rhythm and his experience helps him a lot. He is a banker for them."
Elgar said he hoped he had done enough to get a look in at international level, after a regular run in the A team. Although it will be tough for him to break into a strong South African top six, he said he will take any chance he can get. "If I get a shot batting at No. 5, 6 or 7, I'll take my opportunity wherever it comes. Test cricket is where I'd like to make my debut for South Africa."