Bizarre tactics hurts Sri Lanka on opening day at Newlands

By Kristopher Hinz | January 2, 2017

Suranga Lakmal picked up a wicket in the first over of the match. © AFP

After electing to bowl, strange captaincy from Angelo Mathews meant Sri Lanka were unable to capitalise on a green and seaming wicket on the opening day of the Cape Town Test. Mathews and his bowlers conceded 297/6 after having South Africa struggling at at 66/3 before lunch.

South Africa were under pressure at various points of day one, but Sri Lanka let them off the hook with poor bowling changes. On a track with pace, movement and bounce, part-time off spinner Dhananjaya de Silva was given as many as eight overs, making life easy for the batsmen.

Suranga Lakmal picked up a wicket in his first over, claiming the edge of Stephen Cook, a centurion from the previous match in Port Elizabeth. At 0/1, the Sri Lankans were cock-a-hoop. But after Hashim Amla and Dean Elgar had negotiated a tough period, Mathews brought himself on to bowl rather than turning to the pace of frontline seamer Lahiru Kumara.

Television commentators and Sri Lankan fans alike were rather bemused at Mathews's insistence on bowling his gentle slow-mediums on such a terrific fast bowler's pitch. But when he finally did come into the attack, Kumara took two wickets in an over, clean bowling Amla with a searing 144 kmph yorker and then getting the glove of JP Duminy down the leg side, with stand-in keeper Kusal Mendis taking the catch of the series with a dive.

South Africa were suddenly three down at lunch, but again, the hosts were permitted to relax. Little pressure was put on the new batsman Faf du Plessis, and when there finally was pressure applied, he was dropped at mid-on by Upul Tharanga off the bowling of Rangana Herath. It did not cost much, as Herath had the South African captain nicking, this time successfully, to Mathews at slip four runs later. At that point, the pair had already added 76 and had steered South Africa to a safer position.

Sri Lanka again fought back by claiming the wicket of an attacking Temba Bavuma. Kumara impressed with a fiery short ball that had Bavuma caught by Tharanga, as South Africa fell to 169/5.

Elgar was well set and the in-form Quinton de Kock was with him. In other words, breaking this partnership was crucial. But perhaps typically of Sri Lanka, this partnership was allowed to flourish the most.

Elgar and de Kock batted with increasing ease, as Elgar passed his century amid screams of delight. South African wicket-keeper de Kock soon joined him on 50 as the partnership crossed 100. Sri Lanka's bowlers seemed to tire and fielding standards dropped. Sloppy boundaries were conceded and a run out opportunity was missed late in the day.

When the partnership crossed 100, and despite the fact it was late in the day, a packed Newlands crowd was in full voice. Ironically enough, it was Mathews who finally found the breakthrough, with de Kock LBW for 58 with the new ball. But, with Mathews coming around the wicket, the angle meant de Kock had a reprieve as the ball was missing leg-stump on review.

Elgar was finally removed at the end of the day for a superb 129. Smiling and clearly enjoying himself all day, Elgar had anchored the innings with a knock that would have been far from easy at the start, but he had played on the green seamer as if it was the flattest of Brisbane or Colombo wickets. Lakmal, the hero from the first Test for Sri Lanka, found his edge.   

With South Africa now 297/6, Sri Lanka will need to remove South Africa's lower order as cheaply as possible. But the responsibility for getting them back into the match will lie firmly with the batsmen, who will face a stern challenge indeed from South Africa's fearsome pace trio.

© Island Cricket


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