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Cricket | Sri Lanka tour of South Africa 2018/19

FLTR: Quinton de Kock; Hashim Amla, Dean Elgar, Faf du Plessis © Gallo Images

Tour Diary – Sri Lanka in South Africa, Week 1



12 February

BIG WORRIES FOR THE STATE OF SRI LANKA

The Sri Lankan team didn't train on the day before their first test against South Africa at Kingsmead.

It's a little surprising, by international standards, especially in conditions that are unfamiliar to a large chunk of the squad.

South Africa had their customary, light tune-up on Tuesday morning, after a lot of graft on Sunday and Monday.

What one can say about the tourists is that they have had a lot going on behind closed doors. Since South Africa last encountered them last winter, Sri Lanka have been in the midst of match fixing allegations, they have lost the services of the delightful Rangana Herath to retirement, taken some serious defeats in test cricket and, one could say, self-sabotaged their progress.

Dinesh Chandimal was supposed to be the captain on this trip. He has played here before, he doesn't mind extra pace on the ball, and he also doesn't back down from a challenge. All good traits for a captain to have on the road. Chandimal was supposed to be here, but he was left out at the 11th hour. Later than that, in fact.

The coach of Sri Lanka, Chandika Hathurusingha, only found out that his would-be captain wouldn't be joining him as he was about to board the plane.

It's only got worse for him since then, as he has been told he is no longer on the selection panel. The man best-placed to make an assessment on the team has no say.

It is no surprise, then, that the last time they tasted victory was in Colombo - against the Proteas. They were always going to struggle to absorb the loss of so many star players to retirement, but no one anticipated them hitting such lows.

Perhaps, as they often have done, they will throw a spanner in the works this week, and a player or two will defy South Africa, and make them work up a sweat with ball in hand.

While on pleasant surprises, it was wonderful to see Dane van Niekerk reach 2000 one-day international runs, as well as 100 wickets recently.

The Proteas women's skipper is a terrific batter, and her control of her spin always causes problems. She joins a very select band of women who have reached that unique double milestone.

In fact, you can count them in one hand.


11 February

SCORES TO SETTLE IN SWELTERING DURBAN

The South African test side slipped back into Durban on Sunday, and there was hardly a soul to disturb them as they went about their work.

In fact, their biggest obstacle was getting past four persistent autograph hunters, who timed their mission expertly.

Having taken a break for the ODI and T20 series against Pakistan, the bulk of the test team came back refreshed, and looking forward to a portion of the season where they are expected to really dominate.

The Sri Lankan team are also in Durban already, having quietly made their way from Australia, landing in town on Thursday.

They have a lot on their mind, and the jet-lag from Down Under has seen them keep a low profile. Durban has been kind to the Lions before, of course, with a famous test victory in the Boxing Day test of 2011.

On that occasion, as they won by 208 runs, the Lankans depended heavily on one Rangana Herath. The wily left-arm spinner took nine wickets, as the islanders pulled off a mighty upset.

Now, as they return to the scene of their most significant victory in South Africa, this rebuilding Sri Lanka will hope that someone rises from within the ranks and delivers something sensational.

As for South Africa, there are two survivors from that humbling defeat. Dale Steyn and Hashim Amla are still standing, and still delivering.

They have both made their presence felt this season, as they played decisive roles in the series win over Pakistan.

Steyn is still operating at the same, outrageous pace, while Amla has found form with the blade once more.

They still matter, and they are still expected to star for their team. On Sunday, in the heat of the afternoon, they toiled away in a middle practice,

Steyn running in, and Amla flaying away.

It is a terrific example for the next generation of players and fans to observe.

Zubayr Hamza had spoken glowingly about being in the presence of Amla in the squad. He learns something every day.

Steyn is the wise old head among the quicks, his knowledge sought out by all of them - even when he was injured.

And there, soaking in that Sunday bliss, were four little boys in the bleachers, enthralled by the sight of their heroes hard at work.

That's the beauty of the game of cricket. It has something for everyone.


8 February

TEST CRICKET IS STILL IN RUDE HEALTH

The words of the ICC chairman Shashank Manohar this week were rather chilling.

"Test cricket is dying, to be honest."

That is what he said, even as the West Indies breathed new life into themselves and their game with a series victory over England.

Even as Pakistan and South Africa served up a series high on drama and quality bowling.

Even as India, the bosses of world cricket, are still basking in the afterglow of a first ever test series win in Australia. Their captain, Virat Kohli, places more emphasis on his side's ability to win test matches away from home than anything else.

They have built a pace attack capable of going anywhere in the world and causing problems.

It is an undoubted priority.

But, test cricket is dying, though.

What a thing to say, at a time when the most memorable encounters for most cricket fans are the duels in white clothing, played out over days and days of endless joy and appreciation for an art form.

Already, the Ashes are sold out. The four-day test between England and Ireland, just before The Ashes, is also sold out.

England fans are already looking ahead to their visit to South Africa at the end of the year, for Stokes vs Rabada, Steyn v Root and Bairstow vs De Kock.

None of those images are in anything but white clothing. Those battles best manifest themselves when they are allowed to build and build, then bubble over in a froth of fantastic cricketing warfare.

Mismatches are abound in short format cricket. People are being rested or tried out all the time. The sincerity in the game still lives in test cricket, and that proud tradition and elite standing of the ultimate format must be preserved. It must be encouraged.

It is dangerous when the most powerful man in the game utters things like the ultimate format dying. Far from it.

If you take a poll from all the best cricketers, and ask them which is their proudest moment, most will have a test match in mind.

This is the format that separates the men from the boys. Even the T20 stars of the game first make a name for themselves in test cricket.

That is the barometer of excellence, and long may that prove to be the case.

To play a test for one's country is still the biggest honour for a player. David Miller has played T20 cricket around the world, making millions in the process.

But his biggest goal in his playing career was unattainable. All he ever wanted was a test cap for the Proteas.

In this modern day of social media and the immediacy of the message, it is vital to watch what one says. Manohar was referring to the Test Championship, and how it might renew interest in the game.

Truth be told, true cricket followers will always prioritise the ultimate format. It is still the field of dreams upon which the longest lasting memories are made.

Long may that last.




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