South Africa’s Invitation XI will play a vital role in sizing up Sri Lanka ahead of the three-Test series. The teams have not played each other in the longest version of the game since 2006 and Sri Lanka have been strangers to South African shores since 2002, resulting in a degree of unfamiliarity between the two sides.
Sri Lanka’s obvious strength lies in their batting line-up, headlined by two former captains, Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene. However, they the likes of Dinesh Chandimal and Dimuth Karunaratne, who are awaiting their first Test caps, and Kaushal Silva and Lahiru Thirimanne, will have to rise to the challenge of supporting them consistently.
With batting being talked up as the key to Sri Lankan success by their captain Tillakaratne Dilshan, it will be crucial for them to learn how to play on South African pitches, against South African bowlers, quickly. “The key for Sri Lanka will be adjusting to the conditions and the pace and bounce of the pitches,” Vincent Barnes, Invitation XI coach, told ESPNcricinfo.
Barnes, who was South Africa’s bowling coach for eight years, will also be keenly watching Sri Lanka’s attack, which is almost unknown to South Africa. The only familiar face is Dilhara Fernando, who toured South Africa nine years ago. The other seamers, Chanaka Welegedara, Nuwan Pradeep, Thisara Perera and Angelo Matthews have only played 36 Tests between them, none against South Africa.
With South Africa expected to prepare seamer-friendly pitches, Sri Lanka’s bowlers may be looking forward to the prospect of helpful conditions but Barnes warned that they will also have to make adjustments. “When bowlers play on fairly unresponsive pitches most of the time and they get to South Africa, they tend to bowl too short,” he said. “They will have to work on their lengths.”
Sri Lanka’s bowlers’ first taste of a South African surface will be on Friday in Benoni, traditionally one of the more passive pitches in the country. Barnes expects it to play in the usual way, although it has shown signs of defying that recently. “The pitch looked good,” Barnes said. “There was a match earlier in the season when the Titans were bowled out cheaply and the pitch had a lot of grass on it, but there is a lot less now.”
That means a repeat of the South Africa A game against Australia in Potchefstroom last month which ended in less than three days is unlikely. Barnes was in charge of the South Africa A side during that game. Although Australia won comfortably, Barnes was satisfied that his team had succeeded in making the visitors feel uncomfortable and gave them minimum time in the middle.
He would like the invitation side to replicate some of those tactics. “That’s our job, we are not going to make it easy for them, we’re not here to give Sri Lanka glory,” he said. (www.espncricinfo.com)