Sri Lanka’s series in the Caribbean last month has prepared the batting order for the kind of pace they are likely to get from South Africa. That, at least, is what middle-order batsman Roshen Silva hopes.
Sri Lanka only won one Test in the Caribbean, but had dominated the Test in St. Lucia (which ended in a draw) as well. They had they faced spirited seam bowling from the likes of Shannon Gabriel, Kemar Roach and Jason Holder in the series, which was played largely on seam-friendly decks. A much more accomplished South Africa seam attack awaits them in this series, but the theory is that having countered movement and pace on those difficult pitches, they will be able to neutralise a tougher opposition on dustier tracks.
“Dale Steyn, Kagiso Rabada and Vernon Philander will be a huge challenge, but the toughest series for me was the one in the West Indies,” Roshen said. “You can see how tough it is there given how Bangladesh have struggled there since. They kept a lot of grass on the pitches for the last two Tests there. There was also the challenge of having to face the pink ball under lights, when it moves a lot. On top of which there had been wind as well. It was a really tough challenge.”
While Sri Lanka had to contend with conventional swing, zip off the surface, and uncomfortable bounce in the Caribbean, those are challenges they are unlikely to face at home – particularly at Galle, where low bounce is the norm once the ball loses its shine. It is, instead, the old ball that is likely to pose the greater threat.
“We have been working on playing reverse swing, because South Africa have bowlers who bowl fast,” Roshen said. “We are prepared for that challenge.”
Where Sri Lanka have recently tended to stack their attack with spinners at home, often playing one frontline seamer in their XI, the West Indies tour also appears to have raised confidence in Sri Lanka’s own pace-bowling stocks. The Barbados Test had effectively been won on the back of an outsanding third-innings fast-bowling effort from Sri Lanka, when they had dismissed West Indies for 93. At home, they are likely to rely on their spinners again, but perhaps not as heavily as they generally have in the past two years.
“We realized in West Indies that we had good fast bowlers,” said Roshen. “Lahiru Kumara bowls at 148kmph, Suranga Lakmal can move the ball, and Kasun Rajitha also did well. The future of our seam bowling looks good.”