• Was one spinner enough?

    Going with one spinner was a brave move but it was by no means stupid, writes SIMON LEWIS.

    Keshav Maharaj’s sensational 8-116 on day one of Test 2 against Sri Lanka made social media too hot to handle, as everyone with an opinion and an account was bleating about the selectors’ decision to field just one spinner.

    Cricket is a complicated game: it’s not as simple as saying, ‘Your spinner took eight wickets today, so why didn’t you have two or three of them?’ It’s all about the balance of a team and the suitability of the 11 you select to the conditions of the pitch as well as the opposition. Personally, I would have preferred to have Tabraiz Shamsi in the side to take extra advantage of the pitch… but not at the expense of one of the three seamers.

    I would have kept Shamsi in and benched Vernon Philander to bring in Lungi Ngidi for more firepower and to keep the Sri Lankan batters feeling a bit awkward at the crease. However, the selectors might just have pulled off a masterstroke in bringing the extra batsman into the side at the expense of Shamsi. Usually, I would say your six specialist batsmen should be left to make the runs… and I would have put the responsibility on those Miserable Six from the first Test and demanded that they redeem themselves by making big runs in Colombo.

    They’re a highly talented batting lineup and they can do the business. Pay back the runs you owe us, boys!

    However, considering the failures of the first Test, it was a wise move to bolster the batting… from one perspective in particular. If South Africa hope to win the second Test, then it makes no sense to just select the seventh batter with a view to saving the side from another collapse. Oh no… rather, I think the selectors are playing high stakes poker. They’ve chosen the extra batter with a view to piling on the runs in their first knock… to look to win the match by an innings!

    As things stand, if South Africa score 500 in their first innings, Sri Lanka would need to score over 200 to make the Proteas bat again in this Test. However, by the time the Sri Lankans bat again, the pitch will most likely be incredibly tough to bat on against spin as well as pace. That gives our bowlers an excellent chance to bowl the hosts out for under 200 in their second dig. The maths works out beautifully… but only if Faf du Plessis and his merry men are able to score 500 in their first innings.

    Yes, that is a mammoth, humungous task… but it’s a whole lot easier to take your time over your first innings (while the wicket is still relatively playable) to amass a huge total, rather than having to score more than 50 runs in the fourth innings.

    Sri Lanka’s captain, Suranga Lakmal, was almost hysterical with laughter after he won the toss this morning. He was struggling to contain himself, he was so elated… and his reaction was warranted. The side batting last on this pitch is going to struggle, but that is why the Proteas must ensure they do not bat last. In order to achieve that, they are going to have to make a huge first innings score with the intention of setting up victory by an innings.

    The Proteas do not want to bat last… not even to knock off 2o runs for the win.

    Sounds like Crazy Man Talk, I know, but if I had the talking-stick in the Proteas changeroom, I would tell the boys to take their time, be patient and be vigilant… and score as many runs as possible in the first innings. This I can tell you for certain: it will be easier to score 500 runs in the first innings than it will be to score 100 runs in the second innings.

    Photo: Ishara S. Kodikara/AFP/Getty Images

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    Simon Lewis