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Sri Lanka vs South Africa 2nd Test Preview

Written by Rick John Henry for @HollywoodbetsFollow them both on Twitter and Facebook now!

Sri Lanka vs South Africa | Thursday 24 July – Monday 28 July | Colombo | 06:30

In an attempt to reclaim their rightful berth atop the ICC Test Rankings, the Proteas made the perfect start. A series win is all that stands between South Africa and world dominance, their victory in the first Test ensuring that a mere draw in Colombo will see them leapfrog Australia. And what a beginning to Amla’s tenure as Test captain? An aggressive and defiant win that will only be marred by detractors in certain circles who believe ball tampering is not part and parcel of the game. The very phrase carries such weight that it almost obscures the practice and makes it seem somewhat mythical. In fact, downright dastardly. Agreed, there is a line and those who cross it shall be punished. But it would be prudent to keep in mind that even the likes of Sachin Tendulkar picked at the seam, and when one switches over to the England vs India series at the end of the day’s play, consider Mike Atherton and his dirty pocket.

To Win
Sri Lanka 11/4
Draw 1/1
South Africa 9/4

Sri Lanka
In a year punctuated by highs for Sri Lankan cricket, their homecoming has been disappointing to say the least. They succumbed to South Africa in the ODI series, the first series loss to the tourists on home ground. They’ve now slumped to a position from which they can only hope to draw the Test series and will need to recall previous encounters in Colombo as motivation. The fact is that Sri Lanka have failed to score enough runs; they still await a centurion since South Africa touched down on the subcontinent and have only one century partnership, which came in the final innings of the Test.

Kumar Sangakkara has truly extraordinary statistics this year, averaging above 90.00 prior to the match in Galle. In his last eight Test innings dating back to February, he has a triple hundred, two centuries and five fifties. His only ‘failure’ came in the first innings at Galle, dismissed for 24. It was, however, the manner of his dismissals that would have dismayed Sri Lankan fans. He was out in the first innings attempting to pull a delivery from short and wide, chopping onto his stumps uncharacteristically. In the second, he smacked a JP Duminy long-hop straight into the hands of Hashim Amla. The Proteas can count themselves lucky and Sangakkara will likely be back to his best in Colombo. It is the venue for his world-record stand with Mahela Jayawardene, made against South Africa in 2006.

One positive that Sri Lanka can take out of the first Test, and indeed the tour of England, is the evolution of Angelo Mathews into a stoic and resolute captain. Often tasked with shepherding the tail in the midst of a famous Sri Lankan middle-order collapse, Mathews has done all that is asked of him and more. Eventually, he will need a member of the Sri Lanka’s famed top-order to hang around with him. Obviously, Mathews voiced his displeasure at the degree of reverse swing found by Dale Steyn towards the end of day three. It was disproportionate to the movement found (or lack thereof) on day five, after the tampering allegations had been voiced. While Mathews was careful in his wording, there is no doubt that he believes that Philander’s actions changed the course of the game.

South Africa
Considering that the wicket in Galle was a rank turner, the fact that two South African seamers, Steyn and Morkel, shared sixteen of the Sri Lankan wickets is quite remarkable. Steyn in particular was at his beastly best, though his five wickets in the first innings as a result of reverse swing will be marred by the Vernon Philander ball tampering incident. However, Steyn’s subsequent four in the innings to follow cannot be disputed and Morkel’s performance across the Test was an exhibition in subjecting batsmen to awkward lengths. Indeed, Dale Steyn’s match figures of 9/99 is the best ever by a fast bowler in Galle.

The Proteas will feel disappointed by the returns of their primary spinner, Imran Tahir. It is an open secret that sides will attack the leggie and try to knock him off his length, but the degree to which Tahir loses his confidence is worrisome. A tidy two overs would inevitably result in a pressure release, long hops and full tosses both making regular appearances. He was outbowled by JP Duminy, who was also full of errant spells and was quite lucky to finish with the figures he did. Nevertheless, having their fast bowlers guide them to their first Test win in Sri Lanka for fourteen years will fill the Proteas camp with confidence.

Elgar and Duminy’s centuries, Steyn’s magnificence, du Plessis’ patience and Philander’s thumb and forefinger can all be drawn upon as explanations for South Africa’s dominance. But. in my opinion, it was the behaviour of their new captain Hashim Amla that gave the Proteas the edge. Although he was short on runs, he did not lack in ingenuity and his aggressive decisions ensured that his team forced a result after Sri Lanka had done their best to let the game drift. Instead of batting on in the second innings, Amla declared with a lead of 370 and gave his bowlers close to 120 overs to seal the match. Despite encountering resilience on the fourth afternoon, he rang the bowling changes throughout the fifth day and the short, hostile spells were too much for the tourists. Amla showed he has the tactical capacity to win Test matches, all that remains is leading by example.

Colombo provided the setting for South Africa’s darkest few days in the Test arena, as Sangakkara and Jayawardene piled on a 624-run partnership in 2006. Known as one of the most consistently flat wickets around the world, batsmen should thrive here. As is the case with most abrasive Sri Lankan pitches, spin and reverse swing will be important in the latter stages. There is rain forecast for all five days.

BEST: Top Sri Lankan 1st Innings Batsman, Kumar Sangakkara 26/10
Favourite to score runs, and why wouldn’t he be. Kumar Sangakkara has been phenomenal this year and returns to a ground at which he has scored no less than three double hundreds. Add to that collection five other Test centuries and you have a man who doesn’t know the meaning of failure in Colombo. Your money should be safe with Sanga.

VERDICT: Draw 1/1
Even the bookies aren’t looking much further than the draw. With rain predicted in excess and high scores the order of the day, twenty wickets look a distant prospect for any side. A draw would suit the Proteas and I fully expect them to play for it if the opportunity arises. Flat batting shouldn’t prove difficult in Colombo. Double your money on the draw.

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