- “We have got to improve our batting a lot and improve quickly”: Grant Flower
By Sa’adi Thawfeeq
Sri Lanka may have lost the ongoing T20I series to South Africa and are facing a possible 3-0 whitewash if they lose today’s third and final game at the R Premadasa Stadium, but the big picture is if they don’t drastically show any improvement in their batting before the T20 World Cup qualifications they are going to be in deep trouble.
For a country whose batsmen are brought up on spin from their teenage days, Sri Lanka are today struggling to come to terms with it at international level as they have shown in the present white ball series against South Africa.
Sri Lanka’s batting coach Grant Flower, one of the finest players of spin bowling when he played for Zimbabwe, said: “It’s not for lack of practice; the guys hit lots of balls, do lots of drills, we speak about it at the end of innings, but at the moment some of their thought processes are probably not spot on and probably making inappropriate decisions at the wrong time. It’s execution under pressure. More pressure and execution in the middle, that’s what T20 does to you. The best players in the world learn how to cope with that pressure.
“The South Africans have played us quite well. Hats off to their spinners; they bowled really well and they’ve got it in good areas and good fields. The ball has spun and bounced and we haven’t been good enough to deal with it. Playing spin off the back foot is making wrong decisions to the balls that are skidding on. It’s a matter of skill and picking length early. Some of the guys haven’t been doing that and some have been found wanting. They’ve got to improve and if they don’t, we’ll keep getting results like we are at the moment. For us to succeed at the (T20) World Cup and in the qualifiers we have got to improve a lot and improve quickly,” said Flower.
A stark contrast between the two batting sides is how well the South African batsmen employ the sweep and reverse sweep shots, which one seldom sees from the Lankan batters.
“Quite a few guys are reluctant to play it, the belief within the guys is they can manipulate the ball without having to play the sweep or the reverse sweep,” said Flower about the Sri Lankan batsmen. “But on big turning pitches sometimes when you can’t get down the track and when you have to rotate the strike, you do have to play it. The guys practice the sweep but they need to practice it more, it’s a confidence thing. It’s like hitting a cover drive, you’ve got to practice a lot to gain that confidence.
“We’ve spoken about it but you can have all the team meetings and say and do all the one-on-ones with the batters, when he is under pressure in the middle it’s up to him to make the right decision, to pick the right ball to play whatever shot. We will continue to keep trying to access the sweep and the reverse sweep because if you are trying to attack and you are struggling for boundaries you’ve got to come up with some options. Hats off to the South African players, they have played it well.”
Following Sri Lanka’s sloppy batting display in the second T20I on Sunday, Flower said: “We had an honesty session in the change room before I came for this meeting. The coach said a few home truths. The boys know what they have to do. They’ve got to look in the mirror. Hopefully we are going to come back with a much better performance in two days’ time and hopefully take some positives from that to our warm-up matches before the World Cup qualifiers.”
Sri Lanka are due to play four warm-up games, two of them against Oman, who are also one of the qualifying teams before the T20 World Cup qualifying round. Sri Lanka’s qualifying games are against Namibia, Ireland and Netherlands, all three countries no easy beats, for a place in the Super12s.
Left-arm wrist spinner Tabraiz Shamsi who took the Man of the Match award with three wickets for 21 on Sunday said that unlike in the past South Africa had a quality spin bowling attack that could bowl on any kind of pitch.
“We are bowling so many overs of spin because we have that many quality spinners,” said Shamsi. “In the past when we got to spinning wickets we had a reluctance to pick spinners. It’s been a refreshing change picking teams according to the condition and we have the players to back it up. We have three quality spinners in the squad plus Aiden (Markram) it doesn’t matter what sort of pitch we come on. It’s nice for me to know the captain can utilize me in different ways, whether to bowl at the death or early, it just gives us options. Previously we only had four or eight overs of spin.”
Talking of South Africa’s success against spin on the current tour, Shamsi said: “Obviously Sri Lanka has prepared spinning wickets thinking that we have a weakness as in the past with it, but the boys have done a lot of work behind the scenes over the past couple of months as everyone can see. Sri Lanka tried to prepare spinning wickets, but we have the capability of fighting fire with fire. Probably some of the wickets which we may experience during the T20 World Cup (in UAE), so it is very good to have an extra option whether it be in the power play or towards the middle. You would have noticed in the ODI series and in the T20I series the majority bowled a lot of spin overs. It’s nice to have that option and Aiden was unbelievable again today (Sunday) taking three wickets and making runs. It’s definitely a bonus for us.”