When you play Test cricket in Johannesburg, Perth, Headingley and Christchurch, as an Asian batsman you are bound to have sleepless nights. The pace and bounce affected by a battery of pacies whom you know will ring past your ears, pads and outside edges, give you nightmares. Could it be the same when the non-Asian teams travel to grounds such as Galle, Mirpur, Chennai, Kolkata and Dubai?
Reporting from Galle
Batting well against spin on a ‘dust bowl’ is indeed a rare ability, which the non-subcontinent teams do not possess most of the time. Some batsmen tend to get down the track and face the ball, while others stay behind and play it late. Some effectively use the sweep but most just suck at it.
There is no set rule, method, secret to counter the spin threat on turning pitches. Teams like Australia, England and South Africa struggle in these parts of the world mostly to the fear-factor, playing for prodigious spin but in the end, missing out on rather straight deliveries.
All spinners, Sri Lankans or non-Sri Lankans throughout the history have done superbly in Galle and have even asked the team management to take the surface home.
On day two of the first Test between Sri Lanka and South Africa in Galle, all the spinners in action dominated proceedings despite the pitch showing no signs of demons.
“You’ve got to have a decent defense to keep out the good ball, and you’ve got to look to score. If you can combine those two with a bit of fortune here and there, that gives you the best chance in succeeding against spin.” Hashim Amla said when asked on how to play spin.
Of all the current South Africans, senior statesman Amla has the best record of playing in Asia – He averages 50.94 in 24 matches but he too fell meekly against the likes of Rangana Herath and Dilruwan Perera on Friday.
“As we’ve seen it’s been a tough pitch for both teams. When we bowled in the first innings, their opener Dimuth Karunaratne batted exceptionally well. He played an excellent knock, which basically got them the score they got to. It’s a tough wicket. You’ve got to try and capitalize on the loose balls when you do get them and certainly hope that the ball doesn’t have your name on it – caught behind, or whatever the case is. You’ve always got to have intent when you’re batting.” Amla stated after second day’s play.
The wily old fox, Rangana Herath together with his partner in crime, Dilruwan Perera, restricted the Proteas to 51 for 6 in the morning session which was a very deep hole to come out of for the visitors as they handed a 161-run first innings lead to the hosts getting bowled out cheaply for 126.
Perera went onto take four wickets including a perfect dismissal which saw Quinton De Kock getting his off-stump disturbed from a delivery which pitched in the middle with drift and then spun sharply while Herath ended up with two, one late on day one and one early on day two.
Perera and Herath demolished the Australians two years ago at the same venue as the game was wrapped up within three days. They have shared 135 wickets between them in Galle which include 11 five-wicket hauls becoming a match-winning bowling couple for Sri Lanka in the recent past. On rank-turners and in what would be Herath’s penultimate game at Galle, they will want nothing more than a victory.
“We know, when we bowl, Rangana is going to create lot of pressure. What I need to do is to contain when he is taking wickets and he does the same when I am taking wickets. We have a good understanding.” Perera said about his bowling partnership with the 40-year old Herath.
In 2014, Perera took 16 scalps in 2 games to bag the ‘Player of the Series’ award but the Proteas managed to win the Galle match and eventually the series, 1-0. After today’s performance of 4 for 46, Perera averages 20.79 against the Proteas’ which is his best against an opposition in comparison to his overall average of 34.87.
“We have realized that they (South Africa) don’t play off-spin too well. That has been evident in their last few tours. Maybe that is one reason which helped me to take wickets against them.” Perera said.
Apart of Dimuth Karunarathne, who made 158* and 60 in the Test match, none of the batsmen have played spin well. Even the likes of Dhananjaya De Silva and Kusal Mendis could not score much in the second innings as they fell to the left-arm spin of Keshav Maharaj inside four deliveries.
Sri Lanka have already extended their lead 272 with three full days of cricket left. A typical Galle surface will not get any better and the spinners are expected to cause mayhem till the end which doesn’t spell much hope for the visitors.
“272 on that type of wicket is a lot of runs. If we manage to restrict them to I’d say 320, then certainly that would be a good target for us. If a couple of us have a good partnership and one of us plays like Karunaratne played, that would get us close to that score” Amla believes that his team still has a good chance of surging a comeback.