Yes, Sri Lanka have "outplayed" and "outclassed" South Africa in the series, opener Dean Elgar said, but he believes the hosts have also been "street-smart" in denying the visitors preparation on pitches that were similar to those they would encounter in the Test series.
South Africa played a two-day warm-up at the P Sara Oval in the approach to the series, but Elgar's contention was that the surface for that game had been flat, unlike the tracks in Galle and at the SSC, that have been very spin-friendly. The argument, essentially, was that Sri Lanka had gone out of their way to ensure South Africa had sub-optimal preparation for the challenges they would face in the Tests. Elgar also claimed the Board XI attack that played in that two-dayer was stacked with seamers, when spin was always going to be the major threat to South Africa batsmen in the actual Tests.
"The two-day game that we played - all we faced in the top order was just seamers," he said. "I didn't face one ball of seam in the whole Test series. That's pretty street-smart, I'd say. They gave us a flat wicket that didn't turn, and that's pretty street-smart. The series starts really before the first ball is bowled. The wickets we had were brilliant - they were almost like a one-day wicket. That gives the batters a lot of confidence, because we are smashing everything. In the Tests, all we faced were spinners on pretty dusty wickets. That's also the mental aspect, so you have to find a way to deal with that."
In fact, Elgar along with several other South Africa batsmen, had faced the left-arm spin of Lasith Ambuldeniya in that practice match - Ambuldeniya delivering 17 of the 73.5 overs South Africa faced. Legspinner Wanindu Hasaranga - who has played limited-overs cricket for Sri Lanka - and part-time offspinner Dhananjaya de Silva also bowled 17.5 overs between them. The spinners actually took seven of the nine South Africa wickets to fall in that game.
But the visitors had found conditions easier at the P Sara - where they made 338 - than in the Tests, in which they have been bowled out for less than 130 three out of four times. Sri Lanka captain Angelo Mathews, who also played in that two-dayer for the Board XI side, said intentionally giving touring sides practice facilities that would underprepare them for the challenges they would face in the Tests could be a "tactic". He also said Sri Lanka had had a similar experience on their last tour of South Africa, in which the batsmen had scored heavily in a three-day practice game in Potchefstroom, before largely being blown away in the three Tests.
"I remember in the last tour when we landed in Potchefstroom, we had the same," Mathews said. "The practice match wicket was nothing like what we played on during Test series. It can be a tactic. Most teams do it. I am not too sure what happened on this occasion. It was a slow wicket at the P Sara. It spun a little bit towards the end. It was not very flat - turned a little bit. Our spinners took lot of wickets."
That Sri Lanka won both tosses in the Tests and batted first may also have played a role in the manner in which South Africa have been brushed aside, Elgar said. At the end of the third day of the second Test, no South Africa batsman had completed a half-century, though Theunis de Bruyn will be not out on 45 when play resumes on Monday. Sri Lanka, meanwhile have struck a total of seven fifties in addition to Dimuth Karunaratne's 158 not out in the first Test.
Elgar had had a successful series in Sri Lanka in 2014, having struck a hundred in Galle on that occasion, as South Africa won by 153 runs.
"I do find, this time round in Sri Lanka the wickets have been a lot more challenging to the batters," Elgar said. "I think we've had the tougher of the two conditions. That's not an excuse by any means. We have been outplayed and outclassed in this series, and I'll be man enough to say that Sri Lanka have been better than us in this particular series.
"I don't want to say the toss determines the series or the game. But I think it would have played quite a big role. If we'd managed to bat first in one of the Tests it would have been a different encounter. I think we would have had the best of the batting conditions. But that doesn't rub out the fact we've let ourselves down with the bat."