While there is an argument to doing away with the toss in Test matches, I struggle to see how the Proteas could have benefited from this in the disastrous first Test in Galle, writes MARK SALTER.
If Faf du Plessis believes Sri Lanka had an advantage by batting first, he is conveniently overlooking the fact the Proteas held all the cards when they had Sri Lanka eight down for 176.
And that was even after a mediocre display of bowling in the morning session on day one, particularly by the two specialist spinners, Keshav Maharaj and Tabraiz Shamsi, which allowed Sri Lanka to put on 115 for the loss of two wickets in 31 overs.
It is telling that on this ‘spinning wicket’, four of the first five wickets went to pace (and bounce).
It would be better, perhaps, to look at preparation. One commentator, looking for positives, remarked that Shamsi and Maharaj would at least have learned something about bowling in subcontinental conditions.
Yet it was to this end that Cricket South Africa organised a spin camp in Mumbai in April-May precisely to prepare for this tour. Shamsi and Maharaj were there, as was Shaun von Berg. Batsmen were sent there as well, but of the Proteas’ top six, only Temba Bavuma attended, alongside young players such as Zubayr Hamza and Toni de Zorzi.
Du Plessis and Quinton de Kock were filling their boots in the kaleidoscope world of the IPL, while Hashim Amla, Aiden Markram and Dean Elgar were taking in the more serene surroundings of the county circuit in England.
Ironically, CSA’s high-performance manager Vinnie Barnes was extolling the fact that ‘several senior players appreciate its value’. Sadly, that didn’t seem to extend to the most senior players of all, at the top of the Proteas batting order.
Sri Lanka picked three spinners, yet only needed two. Lakshan Sandakan bowled just 8.5 overs in the two innings. Their top two spinners took 15 wickets, South Africa’s top two took eight.
It was not an unfair wicket – even Du Plessis admits it was ‘a decent Test wicket… there weren’t any demons in it’ – but Sri Lanka’s two spinners were more precise, more innovative and more consistent than South Africa’s.
And they had a batsman who had the patience to defend aggressively and feed off the dross.
His was a masterclass in handling spin, and one which we hope will be taken in by the Proteas.