Challenge for South Africa to hold ground and fire

The Proteas will be hoping to bounce back in the second Test against Sri Lanka, after losing the first in Durban by a wicket.

South Africa captain Faf du Plessis in action in the first Test in Durban that finished last week.   -  GETTY IMAGES

South Africa will be seeking to bounce back in the second Test against Sri Lanka, starting at St George’s Park on Thursday, after Kusal Perera’s heroics handed the Proteas a chastening defeat in the first Test.

Perera became a national hero in Sri Lanka after scoring an unbeaten 153 in Durban to guide his country to a sensational first Test victory in South Africa.

Although it was Perera who stole the headlines in the team’s dramatic one-wicket win, the rest of the players rose to rookie captain Dimuth Karunaratne’s challenge to “compete in every session”.

With Sri Lanka having a largely unheralded bowling attack, it seems South Africa seriously underestimated its opponents.

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In consequence, South Africa is likely to have a change of strategy after going into the Durban match with a four-pace attack as well as spinner Keshav Maharaj. It left them with only six recognised batsmen.

Left-arm swing bowler Vishwa Fernando and debutant left-arm spinner Lasith Embuldeniya took eight and six wickets respectively while South Africa’s batsmen struggled, with the exception of captain Faf Du Plessis and Quinton de Kock.

Du Plessis admitted in Durban that South Africa’s batting had been disappointing.

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It is certain that the host will include an extra batsman, either Theunis de Bruyn or Zubayr Hamza, while a more conventional mix of three fast bowlers and a spinner seems probable.

Opening bowler Vernon Philander did not bowl in Sri Lanka’s second innings in Durban because of a hamstring strain.

If he is not fit, it will simplify the decision of which seamer to omit, although there is also a possibility that all-rounder Wiaan Mulder may win a debut cap.

South Africa could also re-think its policy of short-pitched bowling against Asian opponents. It did not work in Durban and the surface in Port Elizabeth also tends to lack the pace and bounce.

Before the Durban Test, Du Plessis had talked about his team’s long-term goal of closing the gap on number one-ranked India in the world Test rankings. They had to win both the Tests against the sixth-ranked Sri Lanka; that would have closed the gap to four points.

Now, the best they can do is share the series, ending a streak of seven successive home series wins.

Even if they win in Port Elizabeth, they will drop two points further behind India — and if they lose or draw they will fall behind New Zealand, currently in third place.

South Africa have won five and drawn one among the recent six Tests at St George’s Park, including a 206-run win over Sri Lanka two seasons ago.

Last season, after losing the first Test in Durban, South Africa turned the series against Australia around with a convincing six-wicket win in Port Elizabeth.

Kagiso Rabada, who had a poor first Test against Sri Lanka, will be returning to the ground where he took 11 wickets against the Aussies.

Teams

South Africa (from): Faf du Plessis (captain, Dean Elgar, Aiden Markram, Hashim Amla, Temba Bavuma, Theunis de Bruyn, Zubayr Hamza, Quinton de Kock (wicketkeeper), Wiaan Mulder, Vernon Philander, Keshav Maharaj, Kagiso Rabada, Dale Steyn, Duanne Olivier.

Sri Lanka (from): Dimuth Karunaratne (captain), Lahiru Thirimanne, Kusal Mendis, Oshada Fernando, Kusal Perera, Niroshan Dickwella (wicketkeeper), Dhananjaya de Silva, Suranga Lakmal, Lasith Embuldeniya, Kasun Rajitha, Vishwa Fernando.