Sri Lanka will likely throw up dusty tracks that aid spin for the touring South Africans, but Faf du Plessis’ side aren’t giving up on their strength – their pacers – despite the conditions.
In their drawn practice match against Sri Lanka Board XI, pacers Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander and Kagiso Rabada had no wickets, while Lungi Ngidi took one. The spin duo of Shaun von Berg and Tabraiz Shamsi accounted for seven.
South Africa coach Ottis Gibson, however, indicated that he would likely still go with three pacers and two spinners in the opening Test in Galle starting 12 July.
“Our fast bowling has been the bedrock of our success for a long time,” he said, urging his speedsters to “suck it up and run in” even in unfriendly conditions.
While the experienced Steyn and Philander knew the challenges of bowling in the subcontinent, it would be good learning for young Rabada and Ngidi, Gibson said.
“That’s where preparation comes in,” he said. “We’re letting them know early [that] don’t expect to see the ball flying through. Understand that you still have a part to play, running in and bowling at the top of your pace. The captain might use you in short spells, so even for four overs you can run in and go as hard as you can.”
Gibson’s faith in his fast bowlers is perhaps influenced by the last tour of the island. In 2014, Steyn had a strong series, picking up 13 wickets in two matches.
Steyn, who’s on a comeback trail after an injury-hit two years, was “a little bit rusty”, Gibson admitted, adding that his experience would help him come through. “I’m happy with where Dale is at,” he said. “He knows what he needs to do to be up for a Test match.”
As for the batting, Hashim Amla, Temba Bavuma and Faf du Plessis warmed up with fifties, while Dean Elgar made a brisk 43. The middle order folded without much defiance, prompting a disappointed coach to call for positive cricket.
“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,” he said. “The way Sri Lanka play their cricket, when a batsman comes in they will have fielders close [to the bat], which means there are scoring opportunities to be had.
“You have to be positive and confident enough in your game plan to take on those open spaces in the outfield. If you are going to scratch around and get out, you might as well be positive and try and make some runs while you’re at the crease. That has always been my philosophy, and these conditions here don’t change my feeling on that.”
The teams play two Tests, five one-day internationals and one Twenty20 International as part of the tour.