Having crushed Sri Lanka by an impressive margin of 206 runs in the Boxing Day Test at Port Elizabeth, hosts South Africa will be highly confident of sealing the series when they take on the island nation in the second Test of the three-match series at Cape Town in Newlands. But for the first innings, when they were taken out for under 300, the Proteas were completely dominant in the opening Test. Their bowlers were on top of their game in both innings, and the batsmen also rose to the occasion in the second essay, to ensure Sri Lanka were on the mat.
South Africa’s pace bowlers were undoubtedly the stars of the show in the first Test. Vernon Philander’s five-for blew away Sri Lanka, after their bowlers had done credibly well to restrict South Africa in the first innings. Kyle Abbott and Kagiso Rabada also continued to remain impressive. The pace trio will again have to shoulder the bulk of the bowling responsibility as the hosts look to clinch the series. The second Test begins only a couple of days after the first, so the trio’s fitness will be put to test. In the spin department, Keshav Maharaj will be keen to continue his good run.
Although they failed in the first innings, South Africa will be pleased with their overall batting effort at Port Elizabeth. Man of the match Stephan Cook would be keen to continue his great run with the willow. It was his second-innings hundred that set allowed South Africa to build a big second-innings total. Even in the first innings, he came up with a hard fought fifty. Dean Elgar got runs in both innings while JP Duminy, skipper Faf du Plessis and Quinton de Kock finished the Test with one score of 60-plus each. Hashim Amla was also among the runs, but the big score remains elusive.
While South Africa are all set to go in with an unchanged side, there could be a few alterations in the Lankan line-up, which failed to make much of an impact at Port Elizabeth. Kusal Perera, who played poor shots to be dismissed in single figures in both innings, could be under pressure. There are talks that the more experienced, and somewhat conservative, Upul Tharanga might come in to strengthen the batting to an extent. The likes of Dimuth Karunaratne, Kaushal Silva, Kusal Mendis and skipper Angelo Mathews himself, all got starts in the opening Test, but did not carry on.
In the bowling department, the biggest plus was Suranga Lakmal’s five-wicket haul in the first innings. But, there wasn’t much in the form of support. Dushmantha Chameera was particularly disappointing. Coming back from injury, he was out of rhythm, and managed only one wicket across the two innings. He should be retained though for he has impressed when in form. Nuwan Pradeed needs to pick up his game. Rangana Herath could not get much out of the pitch at Port Elizabeth. Better would be expected of him at Newlands. It would also be interesting to see if Lanka bring in a second spinner in Dilruwan Perera.
--By A Cricket Analyst