The 2-Test series between South Africa and Sri Lanka didn’t live up to the expectations. Considering that South Africa had won their last series in this country, a close encounter was expected. But that didn’t happen and we saw a rather one-sided contest with Sri Lanka romping home to a convincing 2-0 victory.
Of late, the Sri Lanka cricket team has been going thourgh some really tough times. The greats like Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara have retired recently and their replacements are still trying to find their feet in Test cricket. Also they are having a tough time dealing with on-field and off-field issues.
Their performance in the recently concluded Test series against South Africa should inspire some confidence in the unit. They were without their regular captain, Dinesh Chandimal, yet they were able to perform beyond everyone's expectations. However, there are certain things to be taken note of going ahead and this series did give some food for thought to the cricket fans.
Here then, are the 5 big take-aways from this 2-match Test series:
#5. Lanka getting back on track
The Sri Lankans have been facing a torrid time in the last couple of years but, at least, in Test cricket, some green shoots of recovery are starting to appear. Their 2-0 victory over Pakistan in UAE and a rather spirited performance in West Indies on seamer-friendly conditions testifies to the renewal.
What is most impressive is the fact that they have managed to withstand the unavailability of some key players while coming up with good performances in the last three Tests. They now have a bowling attack that is capable of performing well in both conditions.
Their seamers made an impact in West Indies and the spinners rose to the occasion at home. This is a good sign for a team that which is starting to emerge from a transition phase.
While it is too early to sing praises in honor of the Lankan spin bowling attack apart from Rangana Herath, both Dilruwan Perera and Akila Dananjaya have done all that was needed to prove they are a worthy option in home conditions. Whether they can maintain consistency remains to be seen.
#4. South Africa’s spin problems are real
When the South African batting crumbled in the Test series they played in India in 2015, most people blamed the pitches. This was justified as even the Indian batsmen hardly made a mark in the first three matches and South African spinners had wickets also. But this series has shown that SA have serious issues relating to playing spin that can look ominous with a tour of India scheduled in near future.
The fact that on the last two days of the series, both Theunis de Bruyn and Temba Bavuma scored good runs proved that scoring isn’t impossible on these wickets, it was the application that was missing. Faf du Plessis looked good and may consider himself unlucky to not have got a fifty but Hashim Amla, considered a good player of spin, was the most disappointing of the lot.
What spoke volumes of SA batsmen’s difficulty was the fact that they were constantly hanging on to the backfoot rather than react to the length of the ball. This is a sign of batsmen struggling against spin.
They were absolutely clueless in the first Test but in the second had a clear strategy of using the sweep shot. This did improve matters a bit and may just be the start of improvement in their spin-playing ability going forward.
#3. AB is going to be sorely missed
South Africa were bound to suffer because of the retirement of AB de Villiers as he had been one of the finest players of spin on subcontinent tracks. AB had this amazing quality of playing innings which wouldn’t just produce runs but also change the flow of the game.
Even in the dire batting conditions of India, he was able to chalk up a couple of good scores. It is near-impossible to find a player of his caliber soon after his retirement, hence, South Africa’s senior batsmen have to start contributing more to fill the void.
AB’s versatility and his positive approach to batting can’t be easily copied and whether South Africa are playing at home or in some other part of the world, they won’t be able to impose themselves on the opposition as they could with de Villiers in the side.
#4. Two big positives for South Africa
The two streaks of silver among the dark clouds for South Africa was the emergence of Theunis de Bruyn as a future star and the consolidation of Keshav Maharaj’s positing as a reliable spinner for the Proteas.
The game of cricket is so uncertain that one can never predict the future with complete certainty, but the hundred scored by De Bruyn suggests he has great quality and could well be the batsmen to strengthen their middle order in the absence of de Villiers.
What makes de Bruyn’s innings special was the fact that he trusted his defence and played measured shots. It was this quality that helped Kevin Petersen when he played his epic knock against Indian on a raging turner at the Wankhede stadium in 2012. This suggests maturity and strength of character that bodes well for his future.
Maharaj, on the other hand, has been showing his potential and in this series, proved that he can also act as a strike bowler in friendly conditions rather than just being a support act to the seamers.
The reason his figures looked bad in the second innings of the last Test was due to him having no support and bowling continuously without rest for long time. Otherwise he had a good series.
#1. Steyn is fit but not at his best
The fact that Dale Steyn went through this series unscathed would be a great relief for all cricket fans, not just the South African ones. This suggests that he is back to near-full fitness and is going to have an extended run at the international level. On top of that, his speed and the good bouncers he bowled suggest that he hasn’t lost his sting.
However, he is still far from his absolute best. On the last tour of Sri Lanka, Steyn played a pivotal role in Protea’s victory by picking up nine wickets in the first Test of that series which SA won. It was the deadly weapon of reverse swing that brought Steyn success in that game and it is this ability that has made him succeed in the most dry conditions as well.
He didn’t get that reverse swing this time. But with the kind of quality he possesses, it would be justified to expect him to get his bag of tricks back in the near future. Plus, when he plays in the more helpful conditions, he is bound to make a bigger impact