Poor shot selection cost Sri Lanka the first Test against South Africa in Port Elizabeth, says Kanishkaa Balachandran
When South Africa were bowled out for 286 early on the second day of the first Test against Sri Lanka at Port Elizabeth, there was hope that the match could turn out to be more evenly matched than anticipated. Sri Lanka were sprightly on the opening day, taking six wickets after losing the toss. But all hopes of a competitive match were dashed when Sri Lanka were soon reduced to 22 for 3 and later to 205 all out. It was South Africa’s match to lose from there on.
The Test then went on a predictable script as South Africa built on their lead and had plenty of time to stretch it beyond Sri Lanka’s reach, before declaring. Still, setting a target of 488 was a bit of a gamble considering Sri Lanka had the better part of two days to achieve it, on a pitch that was still good for batting. It proved a teaser for Sri Lanka’s batsmen as they had to decide whether to bat out the Test or go for the target. Either way, the approach required patience, something the batsmen failed to show as a collective.
Poor shot selection by Sri Lanka’s specialist batsmen cost them the Test, a fact acknowledged by the captain Angelo Mathews after the game. With a young middle order loaded with naturally aggressive players, there will be wickets lost mostly due to the batsman’s own undoing, rather than good bowling. As it happened, in the attempt to score quickly, some batsmen gave away their wickets. Kusal Perera will look back at this Test and realise that he contributed to his own dismissals, chasing wide deliveries and edging them to the wicketkeeper early in his innings. It felt like he was sent up the order to No.3 as a pinch-hitter but this was a Test, not a one-dayer.
No Sri Lankan batsman passed fifty in the first innings. In the second, only Mathews and Kusal Mendis passed that landmark but they couldn’t occupy the crease long enough to put the pressure back on the home side. The pitch hadn’t deteriorated enough on the fourth day to make batting difficult – as it normally would – so Sri Lanka could afford to use up time without worrying about the scoring rate.
South Africa continued to set attacking fields every time a new batsman came in and the ploy worked in needling Dinesh Chandimal, especially. A free-flowing batsman, he was unusually tied down given the number of fielders stationed close to him to cut off scoring opportunities. He charged the spinner Keshav Maharaj, attempting to him for a straight six, only to spoon it to mid-off where the fielder dropped a straightforward catch. But Chandimal gave the bowler a second chance on a platter as he got out spooning a catch to mid-on, attempting a similar shot. He was batting on 8 off 37 balls, and the frustration got to him. His wicket gave South Africa an opening and there was no looking back.
Even Mendis, after making an attractive 58, fell to a questionable shot, trying to guide a bouncer for a four over the slips, only to edge it to the wicketkeeper. Had Sri Lanka ended the fourth day only three wickets down, or maximum four, then the South Africans would have gone to bed worried. But with the score at 240 for 5 after the fourth day, South Africa retained the edge after all.
Mathews admitted that his batsmen should have been more intelligent with their choice of shots, adding that the young side will take some time to learn from this experience. “I think the shot selection is key when it comes to a wicket like this and a bowling attack like this,” Mathews said. “You need to concentrate really hard. You need to work really hard to score runs against these guys. There are very few opportunities to score runs. Sometimes as batters you wait for the bad ball and you don’t get it for a long time. That is Test cricket.”
(The featured image at the top shows Kusal Perera getting out)