Avoid defeat in Galle and go for victory in Colombo

2014-07-16 00:00

CAPE TOWN — Avoid defeat in Galle and strike for victory in Colombo to pinch the series.

That may sound like an overly defensive mindset … and it quite likely also won’t be the formal plea to the troops of either coach Russell Domingo or new captain Hashim Amla as South Africa prepare to enter the first of two Tests against Sri Lanka at seaside Galle International Stadium this morning.

But it could lurk somewhere at the back of the visiting players’ minds all the same, given that the first Test is the likeliest for the Proteas to have to negotiate a genuine “trial by spin” and that their shock bowlers should feel a tad more frisky when hostilities move to Colombo’s Sinhalese Sports Club Ground.

It was hardly surprising that at a media briefing this week, seamer Vernon Philander reminded of the importance of striking with a still-newish ball in the first encounter: failing that, history at the venue suggests that the faster men may be in for hellish, graveyard shifts unless reverse swing enters the equation the more the surface wears.

Galle is undoubtedly where the Sri Lankans will wish their left-arm spinning trump-card, veteran Rangana Herath, to come into his own to potentially devastating effect.

Forget the fact that the Proteas no longer have to deal with an old scourge, the brilliant Muttiah Muralitharan, still holder of the record for most Test scalps ever (800).

The 36-year-old Herath, when home conditions are particularly in his favour — and they ought to be at Galle — poses a clear and present danger all of his own.

His record at the ground tells you everything in that regard: 48 wickets in nine Tests at an average of 23.

However it is assembled, the entire South African side — interestingly rebuilding and restructuring since the retirements of such names as Smith, Kallis and Boucher — will be making their maiden Test appearances at Galle, so it is not as though any of their ranks can pass on useful five-day reconnaissance about the ground’s potential pitfalls.

In all, Sri Lanka have won 12 and drawn six of their 22 Tests at Galle, although the Aussies (twice), Pakistan and India have shown that is not impossible to prevail as the away side there.

Sometimes it presumably also doesn’t exactly turn square at the ground and fizz too violently out of rough, as evidenced by the Lankans’ last Test at the stadium in March last year, when minnows Bangladesh earned an outrageously high-scoring draw.

But if it does turn fairly appreciably, the one-day performances of Imran Tahir and JP Duminy in the lead-up do offer the hope that South Africa may fight fire with some combustible stuff of their own in the department.

Of course if it appears that the word “raging” merits being paired with “turner”, the Proteas’ brains trust may consider also accommodating a further slow-bowling factor in rookie off-spinner Dane Piedt. But that is perhaps an outside prospect.

Given the worrisome news that ace stroke-player and intended wicketkeeper AB de Villiers is struggling with a hamstring niggle, 21-year-old Quinton de Kock has been given the nod as gloveman, doubling his tally of caps to two.

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