TELFORD VICE, Cape Town
SRI Lanka are Murali-less, Kumar-less and Mahela-less. And as of this afternoon they will be in South Africa, hoping like hell that less really is more.
But many South Africans will think a 3-0 thrashing in their team’s favour is on the cards in the test series that starts at St George’s Park on December 26. One of them went so far as to kickstart that thought out loud this week.
“Against Sri Lanka? Quietly, confidently, it should be (3-0),” Dale Steyn said.
“At home, the way that we’re playing – our bowlers are bowling well, everyone seems to be doing well with the bat …”
Then, mindful of having his confidence interpreted as arrogance, he reeled in the notion. Sort of.
“Sri Lanka’s a good side but in South Africa, nothing against them, we should win at least 2-0 … with one possibly washed out,” Steyn said.
None of the matches will be played in Durban. Which means there is little to no chance of a washout. Thanks Dale. We’ll mark down your prediction for 3-0.
Graeme Smith was a mite more measured: “Newlands (where the second test starts on January 2) might spin or might be flat if it’s hot and dry like it has been, and the Boxing Day test match is always a tough one for the South African team.
“But our attack is looking really good. If you’re a Sri Lankan top order batsman I think you’ll come here pretty nervous. The seamers, in particular, are looking strong.”
None of which will sit well with Sri Lankans, whose knees will jerk hard in the direction of the fact that their team have won all of their last five tests.
But three of those were played at home against the discombobulating Australians and the other two in Zimbabwe.
On Sunday, when the Lankans touched down at O.R. Tambo International, they needed to know they were not in Kansas anymore.
Closer to the truth, of their last 20 tests outside of the Asian sub-continent, and not counting the two against a Zimbabwean side who are a test team in status only, they have won three while losing 13.
Muttiah Muralitharan, Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene all played in the first of those wins, against West Indies in Guyana in March 2008, and of them only Muralitharan was missing when Sri Lanka beat England in Leeds in June 2014 – the most recent of their credible away successes.
What of the victory that fell between those? South Africans shouldn’t need reminding …
It was achieved at Kingsmead in December 2011, five months after Muralitharan played his last test.
Sangakkara was one of Marchant de Lange’s seven victims in the first innings – for a duck, nogal – and scored a sublime century in the second dig.
Jayawardene walked to the middle after two early wickets in both innings, which kept him snugly in his box for his scores of 31 and 14.
Who won it for the Lankans? Rangana Herath, the slow left-arm ordinary (apparently) bowler who took 9/128 in the match with little more, it seemed, than a twitch of his moustache.
He was on Sunday’s flight, and as long as Sri Lanka are not Herath-less there are far from hopeless.