The Proteas’ positive batting approach was their downfall in their 278-run defeat in the first Test in Galle, writes KHALID MOHIDIN.
How words can come back to haunt you.
‘If we are going to win in these conditions we have to be positive and we have to try in most situations to take the positive option,’ were the words of Ottis Gibson before the first Test in Galle.
Ranked second in the ICC’s men’s Test rankings, the Proteas succumbed to a humiliating defeat in the first Test in the Pearl of the Orient to sixth-ranked Sri Lanka, who handed them a 278-run whipping with two-and-a-half days of batting left in the match.
Best forgotten, this defeat is a scar that will itch for years to come, and it was all due to an idiotic batting plan.
Even a cub reporter would have been able to spot the flashing neon signs: when the home team lines up with one seamer and three spinners, it gives a pretty strong idea of the type of wicket that has been prepared.
I held back my criticism after the Proteas were skittled for their lowest total in Sri Lanka in the first innings – 126 – as players will always trust that their coaches have prepared them well enough for battle. You can overlook a first-time mistake, but repeat-offenders deserve little sympathy.
When you have 351 to chase with two-and-a-half days left to play, and you are fronting up to a spinning duo who had already found exceptional turn on day two, then how does playing a ‘positive’ brand of cricket help you find runs?
Knowing the conditions and the Sri Lankans’ game plan from the first innings (when seam was only introduced after 36 overs), the Proteas would have been better served looking to grind out singles for long periods of time to frustrate the Sri Lankan spinners and draw seamer Suranga Lakmal into the attack.
Instead, Dilruwan Perera, Rangana Herath and Lakshan Sandakan took 17 out of the 20 Proteas wickets, including all 10 in the second innings, which saw the visitors toppled for 73 – their lowest total after readmission. Their previous lowest score since 1992 was 79 against India in Nagpur in 2015, an innings which saw AB de Villiers caught-and-bowled for a six-ball duck, and also featured underwhelming contributions from Dean Elgar, Hashim Amla and Faf du Plessis.
What was frustrating about their second innings, however, was the manner in which they batted. Six overs into the innings, Elgar danced down the track in search of an expansive straight drive over the top, missed, and was stumped on four.
Aiden Markram started off with the right mindset, scoring 17 off 45 balls before he followed in his opening partner’s footsteps and was also stumped while dancing down the track. His dismissal left the Proteas on 32-5 after 14.2 overs.
We knew heading into the Test that Temba Bavuma would be batting at No 4, but for Gibson to call him one of the Proteas’ best players of spin simply highlighted their frailties against quality spin, as he failed to perform the role of protector for his middle-order.
Quinton de Kock on two occasions attempted to play his natural, free-flowing game, despite his side being six down, showing no interest in playing the defensive role required by the situation.
Combine these failings with Du Plessis and Amla’s failure to read the flight and pitch of Sri Lanka’s bowlers, and the outcome is a humiliating two-and-a-half days at the office.
This shocking defeat was simply down to bad tactics and a poor gameplan. A defensive, gritty approach was needed to compete against Sri Lanka but, instead, the Proteas surrendered meekly and were massacred by a frail Sri Lanka outfit that has been stripped of their regular captain and had recently struggled to scrape a series draw against a West Indies side that is ranked above only Zimbabwe in the ICC’s Test rankings.
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