Proteas skipper Faf du Plessis told the media that, having lost the first Test, drawing the series will be as special as a win.
Preserving a proud away record is a strong incentive for the Proteas ahead of the second must-win Test match against Sri Lanka starting in Colombo on Friday. The Proteas trail Sri Lanka 1-0 after a poor opening performance in Galle, but can push back to level the series with a victory at the Sinhalese Sports Club Ground (SSC).
Du Plessis says drawing the series will be as special as a win, but it will take ‘better’ decision-making and confidence in game plans to pull off a comeback.
‘I thought in the first Test we were off the ball in a lot of areas,’ he admitted to the media on Thursday. ‘We have also been a team that sometimes, unfortunately, starts slowly before we start making better decisions. Hopefully, we can do that in this Test match, we know it is going to be tough but we are looking forward to the challenge.
‘The [away] record is one that we are very proud of,’ he said. ‘It is never easy winning away from home, but when you come to the subcontinent, drawing a series is as good as winning 3-0 at home. It is tough but it is what the best teams do in the world. We want to try and get to the No 1 position and in order to get there, we have to make sure we don’t just do well at home.’
Du Plessis announced that the selectors have decided to play the extra batsman, but have yet to decide if they will field two spinners or three seamers. Although spin is expected to be a factor, the Proteas remain reliant on their pace resources, who are expected to come out firing after their first run in Galle. Du Plessis says he was excited to see Dale Steyn come through the match after a long injury lay-off.
‘The thing with Dale is that he gets better and better the more he plays, I know that because I have played with him for a long time,’ he said. ‘The biggest thing for him would be getting through a Test match, so that is a massive positive for us. I am expecting him to do big things going forward for this team.
‘It looks quite dry,’ he said of the pitch. ‘Sometimes there is some assistance for the seam bowlers. Our batting was a concern in the first Test so we will probably go with the extra batsman and we will decide how it affects the balance of the team.’
The captain says nothing has changed in the squad’s preparation, but that the batsmen have worked on having clearer game plans against the spinners. There has been a call for patience and the need for the batsmen to ‘trust their defence’ after a few uncharacteristic and careless dismissals in Galle.
‘The thing that let us down in the first Test was that we didn’t trust our defence well enough,’ he explained. ‘Part of Test cricket is trusting your defence when you are playing spin. At times you can put the spinner under pressure by having a clear game plan of what you are trying to do. The guys worked well on their game plans in order to try and be positive against the spinners, which is an element of playing spin, but you have to trust your defence as well.
‘I don’t think we play spin badly,’ he added. ‘If I go back to the last series we played against Australia, the wickets were spinning quite a bit, we played Nathan Lyon exceptionally well. He got three or four wickets throughout the series and went for over four an over. It is not something we mentally struggle with, it is more about us not trusting our defence. In the second innings, there was a carelessness about our batting which doesn’t go with Test cricket.’