Sri Lanka were in such a good situation in the early stages of the first Test they could even have dominated had multiple injuries not hit. This, at least, was the view of Sri Lanka captain Dimuth Karunaratne
, whose dressing room was decimated by injury through the course of the four days at Centurion.
Sri Lanka made 396 in the first innings - their highest ever score in South Africa - but lost Dhananjaya de Silva
to a thigh strain during what was arguably their most fluent innings of the Test. In subsequent days Kasun Rajitha and Lahiru Kumara withdrew from the attack due to injuries, meaning Karunaratne had only three good bowling options remaining.
Despite the good first-innings total, they went on to lose by an innings and 45 runs, after South Africa racked up a total of 621 against a substantially depleted attack.
"I've never faced a situation like this and maybe no one has, where in one match you lose three bowlers," Karunaratne said. "When we started we had a balanced attack, with bowlers I could use for various roles. But in the first innings we lost that. We had been in a position where we could have even dominated the game. We had been in worse situations than this on our last tour to South Africa when we won those games. Losing this [game] by an innings is a huge disappointment.
"We had scored the most we'd ever scored [in South Africa] in the first innings. We knew after making that total that it's going to get harder to bat on later in the game as well. If our bowlers had stayed fit we would have been able to do something. Our batsmen did a good job in this match."
Karunaratne was unwilling to be too severe on the second-innings batting effort either. Sri Lanka conceded a first-innings lead of 225, but aside from the absence of de Silva, they also had to contend with a niggle that Dinesh Chandimal
picked up, as well as Rajitha and Kumara's inability to do anything but hobble between the wickets. Wanindu Hasaranga was also struggling to run after injuring his thigh diving on the ball on day three.
Karunaratne suggested that Sri Lanka's collapse to 180 all out in the second innings was at least partly due to injuries having wiped out their prospects of victory.
"We were 200 runs behind and if we'd chased that down and set a target, we still wouldn't have had any bowlers to defend it," he said. "We had two wicket-taking bowlers, and once their spells finish, the next bowlers we had available are myself, Kusal Mendis and Dasun Shanaka.
"We have three wicketkeepers in the XI, so we don't have a lot of part-time bowlers. I think that must have been in the batsmen's minds in the second innings, because no matter how well we set up a target, it's still not going to be easy. And when batsmen can't run, that makes it tough because then you can only score with fours or sixes. Sticking around for two and a half days on this wicket would have been tough. It was still seaming and the bounce was inconsistent."
Sri Lanka hope to have senior seamer Suranga Lakmal
back for the second Test, but he is battling against time to recover from a hamstring niggle by Sunday. Chandimal is also doubtful with what seemed to be groin problem sustained while batting. Top-order batsman Oshada Fernando
is expected to be fit for the second game, however. Sri Lanka also have fast bowlers Dushmantha Chameera
and Asitha Fernando
in reserve, while Vishwa Fernando got through the first Test unscathed - the only frontline quick to do so.
"We're not sure about Suranga's fitness. We hope he'll be fit, but we'll have to watch a few more days. Chandimal's injury also needs to be observed. We don't know yet whether he'll be able to play, but I suspect he'll be able to. We'll need to replace Dhananjaya de Silva. The big loss going to Wanderers is that we don't have our best attack anymore. We'll do what we can with the players we have left.
"In the dressing room, it's not easy to handle this kind of situation. As a captain I need to work out how to keep my head up and keep the players together. There's a lot of disappointment because we arrived on this tour with a lot of hopes. We'd been in a positive mindset. But the series isn't over yet. I'm sure the replacement players will do well in the second Test."